POPE CALLS FOR FAST AGAINST WAR ON IRAQ
     Pope tells British PM in first such meeting in decades war on Iraq
                   would constitute a 'Crime Against Humanity'


     Pope Calls for All Catholics to Fast on March 5 Against War in Iraq
                                 By Frances D'emilio
 
VATICAN CITY (AP - 23 February) - 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.
 

 
                   THE POPE'S DISAPPROVAL WORRIES BLAIR MORE THAN MARCHERS
 
A "crime against humanity": those are the forthright words chosen by John Paul II to characterise the coming war with Iraq, which he told Mr Blair yesterday would create "new divisions in the world"...The Pope, a veteran of the Polish wartime resistance and a lionhearted enemy of Communism, is no weak-willed peacenik. Quite the opposite, in fact: he knows better than any of the West's current crop of political leaders what war really entails. I imagine that the soft-spoken opposition of this towering figure troubles Mr Blair much more deeply than the hostility of the million or so voters who marched through London eight days ago.