BY CHRISTINA WHITE AS THE prospect of war against Iraq draws ever nearer. Church officials are trying to broker a peace deal that would avert conflict with Saddam Hussein.
According to reputable news sources, Vatican officials have put together a proposal that would offer Saddam Hussein and his family exile. At the same time, dozens of Iraq's top military leaders would be offered amnesty in return for full-co-operation with the UN.
The deal, said to have been brokered with Saudi Arabia, was put before a closed-door meeting of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council last Friday.
A Vatican insider said it was a lastditch attempt to stop war. "God willing, war may still be averted, even at this apparently late hour. We are still hopeful," he said.
Reports from the UN in New York suggested that the Vatican deal could form part of a Second Resolution. Under its terms, the UN, and not America, would oversee the establishment of a post-Hussein government. Crucially, stewardship of Iraq's oilfields would also fall to UN control.
John Paul II has urged Catholics to pray for peace, while he continues his intensive diplomatic effort to secure a peace deal. Over the past six weeks papal emissaries have been dispatched to meet with key players in the conflict. The Pope has personally met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and with the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Last week Cardinal Pio Laghi, former papal nuncio to the United States, handed President George W Bush a letter from the Pope, the contents of which have not been made public.
Thirty-nine British Army chaplains, of whom 25 are Catholic, have already been sent to the Gulf. Bishop Tom Burns of the Forces has confirmed that their role will be a "ministry of presence and pastoral care" In a pastoral letter to the chaplains, Bishop Burns described war as a "tragedy and a defeat", but said that because an order to fight would come from a legitimate government the soldiers "could regard an order to go to battle as morally decent, in pursuit of a morally good purpose".
In Britain, anti-war campaigners took their protest to the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall, central London. More than 100 people attended an Ash Wednesday liturgy. Peace slogans were scribbled on the building. Organisers said they were still praying for peace.