Pope John Paul II says the war in Iraq is threatening the fate of humanity. It was the first papal statement since the outbreak of U.S.-led hostilities against Baghdad.

Speaking to television journalists in the Vatican, the pope said weapons can never solve the problems of mankind. At this time, the pope said, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong a decisive voice, that peace alone is the way to construct a more just and united society.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church said peace is a gift of God and a humble and constant achievement by men.

The Vatican expressed its deep sorrow soon after the start of bombing by U.S. forces. The Pope's words Saturday were his first since the outbreak of the war, which he described as a threat to the fate of humanity.

In recent weeks the 82-year-old pontiff has spoken out strongly against the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. He made numerous calls for peace and for a negotiated solution to the crisis. In his efforts to prevent a war he appealed personally to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

The pope has said there is no legal or moral justification for military action and has expressed his concern that it will harm relations between Christians and Muslims. In a diplomatic drive to try to avert the conflict, the pope also dispatched Vatican representatives to Baghdad and Washington.