Worried Pope Calls on Humanity to Overcome Hatred
December 9, 2001 9:18 am EST

By Crispian Balmer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul, indicating he believed the United States should not expand its war on terrorism beyond Afghanistan, urged people on Sunday to push for peace and not pursue vendettas.

"In the current complex international situation, humanity is being called on to mobilize its greatest energies so that love triumphs over hate, peace over war, truth over lies, forgiveness over vendettas," the Pope said in a regular weekly address.

His comment came the day after he had urged the world in apocalyptic terms to pull back from the brink of further conflict, apparently signaling his anxiety that once the Afghan war was over the United States would strike elsewhere.

"Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. Humanity, which greeted the dawning of the third millennium with hope, now feels weighed down by the threat of new shocking conflicts. World peace is at risk," the Pope said in a speech on Saturday.

Significantly, no one in the top Vatican hierarchy has so far used the word "war" to describe the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan, underscoring instead the argument for self-defense and importance of pre-empting further attacks.

However, commentators say the Pope is uncomfortable with this line and is worried the United States, enraged by the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, might soon decide to lash out at other Muslim countries such as Iraq.

He is also clearly concerned about the seemingly endless spiral of violence in the Middle East.

"John Paul has felt like a lion in a cage since the start of the bombardment on Afghanistan and the escalation of the latest Middle East crisis," Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper said on Sunday.

The 81-year old Pontiff appealed on Sunday for Christians and Muslims to pray together and renewed his call for Roman Catholics to fast for peace along with Muslims on Friday, the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"Believers have always adopted the weapons of fasting and prayer, coupled with works of genuine charity, when confronted by the most serious dangers," Pope John Paul told pilgrims gathered outside St. Peter's Basilica in bright sunshine.

The Vatican was against the 1991 Gulf War, expressing the belief that allies could have applied more diplomatic pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait.

But, perhaps as never before, the events of September 11 have blurred the Roman Catholic Church's "just war" principles, with a number of leading churchman saying the United States had the right to attack suspects in Afghanistan.

"The Pope approved this line with his head but not with his heart and since the bombing started he has visibly suffered by not being able to launch prayers for peace with the same force as during the Gulf and Kosovo wars," Corriere della Sera said.