VATICAN DIPLOMATS WORK DESPERATELY TO STOP WAR

     VATICAN (CWN) -- Vatican diplomats are working "intensely" to forestall the possibility of a military strike against Iraq, according to Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

      Cardinal Sodano told the Italian daily La Repubblica that all of the diplomatic resources of the Holy See have been brought to bear on the crisis, and that the Vatican is "in constant contact" with the ambassadors of the United States and Iraq, as well as their respective governments, and with the leadership of the United Nations.

      Yesterday the Vatican took the highly unusual step of announcing that Archbishop Renato Martino, the permanent observer for the Holy See at the United Nations, had visited Secretary General Kofi Annan, to deliver a personal message from Pope John Paul II asking the UN leader to visit Baghdad to help negotiate a peaceful solution. Ordinarily the Vatican does not make such diplomatic efforts public.

      Cardinal Sodano said that Church leaders would continue to make their pleas to all countries involved, insisting on "our opposition to armed military intervention-- because it will not resolve the issues in this crisis, will risk escalating the conflict, and will aggravate the already difficult conditions of life for the people of Iraq."

      Archbishop Martino, in a separate interview published today in the Italian daily Il Giornale, pointed out that "many countries are opposed to military intervention." For that reason, he said, the possibility of a diplomatic solution is greater than it was prior to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. "Even if the outlook is not encouraging, I am still going to take the chance to be an optimist," he said.

      In Baghdad, the Chaldean-rite Catholic Patriarch Raphael Bidawid echoed that optimism, telling the Italian newspaper Avvenire, "I think there is still hope, and that a peaceful solution is still possible." The Eastern Catholic leader said that after the disaster of 1991, Saddam Hussein was unlikely to go to war again. He also lamented that "since 1991, 1 million children have died because of the embargo" on Iraq.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT:To subscribe to Catholic World News Service, available daily by e-mail, click here .

February 18, 1998 volume 9, no. 35          DAILY CATHOLIC