Documentation: Their Jihad, Our Just War

Moral Realism and the Middle East

Editor’s note: The Archbishop of Washington gave the following homily at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on January 17, 1991, the first day of Operation Desert Storm.

War is never easy; it involves the lives of our brothers and sisters, it involves so many families in the Archdiocese of Washington and beyond. The death or injury of anyone in the armed forces or in the civilian population is a great tragedy. Yet our moral tradition clearly does not sustain peace at any price. War is sometimes for nations a sad necessity; as St. Augustine said long ago, ” . . . it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate the just.” (The City of God, Book III, ch. 15)

In his 1948 Christmas message, Pope Pius XII said, “A people threatened with an unjust aggression, or already its victim, may not remain passively indifferent, if it would think and act as befits a Christian. All the more does the solidarity of the family of nations forbid others to behave as mere spectators, in any attitude of apathetic neutrality. Who will ever measure the harm already caused in the past by such indifference to war of aggression. . . . Among [the] goods [of humanity] some are of such importance for society, that it is perfectly lawful to defend them against unjust aggression. Their defense is even an obligation for the nations as a whole, who have a duty not to abandon a nation that is attacked.”

Today, the combined forces of the United States and its allies are seeking to free Kuwait from its present occupation and to bring a measure of peace and stability to the Middle East. Sanctions against Iraq have been in force for some months; in the view of our president, of a majority of the Congress, and of many well-informed persons, they were not successful and so armed intervention has become a necessity to resist aggression against Kuwait.

We come to this war mindful of its inherent dangers: dangers to life, to families, to human rights. We are deeply concerned that modern war has a terrifying potential for evil, for unleashing forces that become almost impossible to contain. Yet we have also to weigh the danger of inaction and the tragedy suffered by a nation overtaken against its will.

Our Catholic tradition does not rule out all war. A just cause, authorization by lawful authority, a right intention— all these are required. Military action must be a last resort; there must be a hope of success commensurate with the suffering and loss that war entails. The war itself must be measured by the values to be defended; the type of military action must be in proportion to the evil that is to be overcome. Certainly civilian populations cannot be targeted and the principle of non-combatant immunity must be preserved.

Today we ask God to help our president, our armed services, and our allies in the United Nations—that the conduct of the war be in accord

with our moral tradition. We ask God to protect those who fight, and, with a true peace achieved, bring them back to us sound in body, heart, and mind.

It is my prayer and earnest hope that this military action will be accompanied by equally vigorous diplomatic and political action to ensure for the Middle East that tranquility of order which we call true peace.

We pray also for our country, our city of Washington, and all the cities of our United States and elsewhere, that we be spared the scourge of terrorism and sabotage. Today I have also written to all parishes asking prayers for peace. I asked that every Mass include petitions for a prompt and just resolution to this conflict. So also, today, I invite you to join your hearts and minds as one in praying for our armed forces and in asking for a just and lasting peace. I urge you to continue praying for peace in the days ahead.

Dear friends, look for opportunities to spend time in church, especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; beseech the Prince of Peace for a successful end to this war. I urge you to pray the rosary in your parishes and in your homes, asking the powerful intercession of Mary, the Queen of Peace. If there are members of your family who are sick or housebound, ask them to pray; ask them to offer their sufferings for this important intention. Pray also for all world leaders, for the people of Kuwait, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and for all who may be touched by war.

So many of you and so many families in this archdiocese have loved ones serving in the Middle East. My heart goes out to you and to them with special love. I pray that the Lord will bring your loved ones home in safety. I have asked all my brother priests to reach out to you in special concern during this time of anxiety and anguish. You need to know how much the Church loves you, you need to experience the Presence of the Lord in your lives especially in the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, as an archdiocesan family of faith, we stand ready to offer any assistance we can to the Red Cross and to other organizations concerned with easing the human suffering brought about by war. This is a sign of a deep concern and love that must go beyond words.

Dear friends, with loving trust, we turn to Mary, the Patroness of this Archdiocese, the Mother of God. She has given the world the Prince of Peace; we acclaim her as the Queen of Peace. May we all turn to Jesus, asking that our world pass through this war in safety to a just and lasting peace.

“Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, have mercy on us.”


  • James Cardinal Hickey

    James Aloysius Hickey (1920 – 2004) was an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Washington, D.C. from 1980 to 2000, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1988.

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