DAILY CATHOLIC    FRI-SAT-SUN     September 3-5, 1999     vol. 10, no. 167

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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        VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- The permanent Vatican observer at the United Nations has called for a suspension of Anglo-American bombing missions in Iraq "at least" during the course of a papal visit to that country in December.

        Archbishop Renato Martino told the Italian daily Avvenire that he hoped for a halt to the air strikes from December 2 to December 4, when Pope John Paul II will be visiting Iraq.

        Archbishop Martino emphasized that the papal visit would not be dependent on the agreement by British and American leaders to halt the bombing. That visit would take place as scheduled, he said- - although the Vatican has not yet officially confirmed the plans. Informed sources also say that the Pope will stop in Egypt during his return trip on December 5, for a visit to Mount Sinai.

        The papal voyage is intended as a religious rather than political event, the archbishop stressed. However, he observed: "There are people for whom the prospect of this trip is not pleasant, and they have sought to give it a political significance."

        The Holy See cannot ignore the political situation in Iraq, Archbishop Martino continued. He noted that the Pope has spoken out frequently in opposition to the international sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq, and the bombing raids, which continue, on a regular basis. But the Pope's trip to Iraq is not intended as a means of "giving a blessing" to the regime of Saddam Hussein, he added that the Vatican seeks only to remind the world that "the fault is not completely on one side."

        Nevertheless, a group of Iraqi dissidents sent an open letter to Pope John Paul II on Thursday, asking him not to meet with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a planned trip, joining the United States and some Jewish groups in opposition to the visit.

        "It is our wish that Your Holiness not visit Iraq while it is under the rule of a despot with the blood of innocent people on his hands," the group of 19 organizations representing exiled and dissident Iraqis said in an open letter to the Holy Father. The letter referred to human rights abuses by Saddam and a UN report saying Saddam's government had one of the worst human rights records of any country since World War Two.

        The groups said they understood the Holy Father's desire to visit Ur of the Chaldeans, the birthplace of the biblical patriarch Abraham, but were concerned that Saddam could use the visit for political purposes. The Vatican has dismissed such concerns in the past, citing the Holy Father's visits to other oppressed countries where he confronted political leaders and left increased religious freedom in his wake.

        The World Jewish Congress has said it hoped the Holy Father could be convinced not to meet Saddam and the US has warned that a papal visit could engender support for loosening international restrictions on Iraq. The Pope has been an ardent opponent of economic sanctions in place against Iraq since the Gulf War.

        Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox bishop of Sinai in Egypt announced on Thursday that the Holy Father will briefly visit St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai during his December trip. The site is believed to be the location where Moses spoke to God in the burning bush and where he received the Ten Commandments. Hermits and monks began living at the site in the 4th century.

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 3-5, 1999       volume 10, no. 167


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