Social Justice Secretariat

General Curia of the Society of Jesus
Borgo S. Spirito, 4

C.P. 6139 / 00195 Roma-Prati (Italy)

+39 06689 77393 (tel)+39 06688 06418 (fax)


To the Provincial Co-ordinators of Social Apostolate


My dear Companions in the Lord,
In His address to the Diplomatic Corps, John Paul II emphatically proclaimed: “War is not always inevitable, it is always a defeat for humanity.”[1] These anguished words of the Pope reflect the Holy See’s growing concern regarding the effects of violence and war on the fragile fabric of human coexistence. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in October 1965, Paul VI spoke of the solemn pledge to be taken by all: “No more war, war never again!”[2] Expressing similar sentiments, John Paul II, on the occasion of the war in the Persian Gulf repeated the cry: “Never again war!”[3] Praising the efforts of those struggling for peace, He described as a new sign of hope “the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples.”[4]

In response to the tragic violence of September 11, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Statement on Iraq issued on November 13, 2002 made clear that, “based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.” In the same spirit, in a letter addressed to President Bush on October 19, 2002, the Jesuit Provincials of the United States categorically expressed their “strong moral reservations about the use of military force in Iraq.” To these voices we must add the testimonies of many Jesuits around the world who, in trying circumstances, are spreading the message of dialogue and peace in the midst of violence, and the concerns of many others who have urged the Social Justice Secretariat to support these efforts for peace.


In fidelity to our commitment to be “Servants of Christ’s mission,”[5] and at this critical juncture, our determination to work for a peace anchored firmly in justice, must be guided by a considered and prayerful reflection on the main reasons that militate against war on Iraq. We believe, with many others, that the reasons for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq are not convincing, and the effects of a possible war will turn out to be so devastating that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to justify a military intervention. Our belief is based on the following considerations.


(1)The ‘doctrine’ of a pre-emptive war is neither in accordance with UN doctrine and law,[6] nor morally defensible.[7] The application of this doctrine would open the door to an infinite war, a ‘war without end’.


(2)Rather than bringing a stable peace in the region (Middle East), a war against Iraq would heighten the tensions between Muslims and Christians. The seeds of dialogue between them so patiently sown would be trampled in a spiral of violence and intolerance.


(3)The willingness to incur massive military expenditure that destroys life seems to stand in sharp contrast with the unwillingness to promote, with the same determination, the sustainable development of all. In a world of growing inequalities, where the majority lack basic necessities; in a world where trade and financial structures benefit the rich rather than the poor countries, many continue to question with increasing discomfort whether the true motives of war against Iraq have to do more with economic than security reasons.


(4)In the new emerging world political order, vital decisions on global security affecting the lives of people across continents are proposed to be taken unilaterally by the leaders of a few industrialised countries outside the control of the UN, and disregarding their obligation to build a broader consensus through legitimate democratic processes.


(5)Experience has shown us that the poor are always the main victims of violence and war. As Jesuits we are “friends in the Lord,” and this “means being ‘friends with the poor’, and we cannot turn aside when our friends are in need.”[8] In a situation of generalised violence, and when war is projected as inevitable, we cannot turn our gaze away from our professed friends, the poor, especially women and children. From their perspective, there can be no justification for war.


It is for these reasons that our efforts in favour of peace assume an added urgency. As far as it is feasible, and keeping in mind local conditions, our struggle against continuous violence and in favour of peace needs to be strengthened, become more articulate, and integrate itself into a number of national and international initiatives. To attain these objectives, Jesuits in the social justice sector must contribute, at the Province level, to create proper fora where other Jesuits, and our collaborators can creatively reflect on these issues, prepare some plans of public action, and discern concrete ways of collaborating with other groups. 


In the end, our long-term efforts, as John Paul II has repeatedly stated, must take cognisance of the obvious fact “that there is serious disorder in world affairs”, and that we must “work together for a new constitutional organisation of the human family[9] capable of being perceived as an objective and impartial guarantor of rights.


Rooted in the faith of Jesus Christ who called us to work for His Kingdom, we join many sisters and brothers in the struggle for a world of justice, truth and peace. A world where true peace can become a victory for humanity.



Fernando Franco SJ


Social Justice Secretariat


February 7, 2003

[1] Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2003.
[2] Message of Peace to the United Nations, 4 October 1965.
[3]Centesimus Annus, 52.
[4]Evangelium Vitae27.
[5] GC 34, Decree 1, no. 1.
[6] Cf. UN Charter, Articles 39 and 42.
[7]Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2309.
[8] GC 34, Decree 2, no. 9.
[9] John Paul II, Pacem in Terris. A Permanent Commitment, 1 January 2003.