Pope Calls for Fast Against War in Iraq
February 23, 2003

By FRANCES D'EMILIO
.c The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope John Paul II called on
Catholics to fast on Ash Wednesday in the name of
peace and said again on Sunday he worried a U.S.-led
war against Iraq could unsettle the entire Middle
East.

Looking wan and tired, John Paul opened his
traditional Sunday remarks from his studio window
overlooking St. Peter's Square by denouncing war as a
way to resolve the conflict.

``We Christians in particular are called upon to be
sentinels of peace,'' John Paul said, calling on
Catholics to dedicate their fasting on Ash Wednesday,
March 5, for the cause of peace.

On that day, the pope said, faithful will pray for
``the conversion of hearts and the long-range vision
of just decisions to resolve disputes with adequate
and peaceful means.''

He said that the fast, which Catholics traditionally
conduct at the start of Lent to prepare themselves for
Easter, is an ``expression of penitence for the hate
and violence which pollute human relations.''

Fasting, an ancient practice shared by other
religions, he said, also lets faithful ``shed
themselves of all arrogance.''

Rainbow-hued peace banners fluttered in the crowd of
tourists and pilgrims in the square. Surveys have
shown Italians and many other Europeans oppose war,
even if waged under the aegis of the United Nations,
and earlier this month, about 1 million Italians
marched through Rome to protest against the United
States and its push for using military force.

``For months the international community is living in
great apprehension for the danger of a war, which
could unsettle the entire Middle East region and
aggravate the tensions unfortunately already present
in this beginning of the third millennium,'' the
pontiff said.

``It is the duty of all believers, to whichever
religion they belong, to proclaim that we can never be
happy pitted one against the other; the future of
humanity will never able to be secured by terrorism
and by the logic of war,'' John Paul said.

While the pope has been hailed as a champion of peace
by anti-war demonstrators ranging from
environmentalists to communists, some in Italy
challenged his view.

Radical Party leaders Sunday denounced what they saw
as the pontiff's ``equating terrorism and war,
whatever war.'' Led by Marco Panella, the Radicals say
they would like to see Saddam Hussein in exile and a
democratic government under U.N. auspices to replace
the Iraqi leader.

John Paul has been holding practically daily meetings
with key players in the crisis over Iraq. In his
latest effort, on Saturday, he met with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, who has been trying to line up
support in Europe and elsewhere for Washington's
insistence that military force is necessary if Baghdad
doesn't quickly and completely comply with U.N.
disarmament resolutions.

John Paul, 82 and struggling with Parkinson's disease
and other health problems, appeared weary, his voice
trailing off in the final words of his appeal,
``blessed are the peacemakers,'' a phrase from the
Gospel of Matthew.

John Paul made similar calls against conflict in the
months before the 1991 Gulf War, but in this campaign,
with the memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
making the world particularly apprehensive, he has
seemed more determined than ever to do his part to
persuade decision-makers against going to war.