By VIVIANE HE'W=
ROME SPECULATION WAS RIFE THIS
week over whether the Pope will clash with French President Jacques Chirac over nuclear testing during a private Papal audience tomorrow. John Paul II's condemnation of such experirnents, issued last week, was described as one of the most political speeches of his pontificate. John Paul called for "general and complete disarmament without delay." The Pope's address to the diplomatic corps to the Holy See was seen to set the tone for a new Vatican hardline on nuclear testing calling for disarmament just days before Chirac's official visit to the Vatican. For just five months ago, John Paul had sounded less intransigent on the question of such tests, which were then being carried out by France on the Pacific atoll of Mururoa.
He told journalists on a flight back to Rome from Africa that nuclear tests should be annulled but added that they should at least be highly controlled and that undoubtedly "France has its reasons".
Catholic campaigners for nuclear disarmament have hailed the Pope's landmark speech. Vice President of CND Bruce Kent told the Catholic Herald that he was "delighted that the Pope has made his position so clear."
He stressed that the Pope's latest comments on nuclear tests were "consistent with his stand throughout see for example the speech made before the UN General Assembly as far back as October 1993 by the permanent Vatican Observer, Archbishop Renato Martino: Archbishop Martino categorically condemned nuclear deterrents, lock stock and barrel." Bruce Kent went on to point out that John Paul H's message on nuclear testing can now be more clear "because the Cold War is over, and there is no risk of the Pope impeding the Superpower he was most closely allied to the US during that period."
Last autumn, former French Bishop Jacques Gaillot of EVIreUX was among protesters aboard the Green Peace Rainbow Warrior when the carrier was taken over by French troops.
Vatican observers maintained that the Pope's clear change of mind in his address last weekend was also believed to reflect a Holy See decision to take a more definite stance on international questions still pending including the issue of the status of Jerusalem.
The Holy See has been stepping up its campaign to have an international charter guaranteeing freedom of worship and association for all three religions in the Holy City, especially Christian communities which have reported "difficulties" with Israeli authorities.
It was also significant that the Pope described some parts of the Muslim world, as well as China and Vietnam, as the oppressors of millions of Christians.
The Vatican appeared to be reminding Saudi Arabia in particular that while Rome now has a multi-million pound mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre, Catholics in the Arab kingdom were still forced to celebrate clandestine Masses.