BY SIMON CALDWELL
POPE JOHN Paul II made peace the subject of his Easter message — and drew attention to the "forgotten wars" raging around the world.
In Urbi et Orbi, his message to the city of Rome and to the world, the Pontiff reminded a crowd assembled in a rainy St Peter's Square, Rome, last Sunday that the first words of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospel after his Resurrection were "Peace be with you", a greeting, he said, which "echoes today throughout the world".
"For all, especially the least and the poor, we proclaim today the hope of peace, of true peace, founded on the solid pillars of love and justice, of truth and freedom," the Pope said. "Peace in Iraq! With the support of the international community, may the Iraqi people become the protagonists of the collective rebuilding of their country.
"Peace in other parts of the world, where forgotten wars and protracted hostilities are causing deaths and injuries amid silence and neglect on the part of considerable sectors of public opinion.
"With profound grief I think of the wake of violence and bloodshed, with no sign of ceasing, in the Holy Land.
"I think of the tragic situation of many countries on the African continent, which cannot be abandoned to itself. I am well aware of the centres of tension and the attacks on people's freedom in the Caucasus, in Asia and in Latin America, areas of the world equally dear to me."
He said: "Let there be an end to the chain of hatred and terrorism, which threatens the orderly development of the human family. May God grant that we be free of the peril of a tragic clash between cultures and religions.
"May faith and love of God make the followers of every religion courageous builders of understanding and forgiveness, patient weavers of a fruitful inter-religious dialogue, capable of inaugurating a new era of justice and peace."
The Holy Father quoted from the introduction to Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), the 1963 encyclical of Blessed Pope John XXIII, the words of which, he said, remained as timely as ever.
In London, Cardinal Corrnac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and spiritual leader of the Catholics of England and Wales, also spoke about war.
In his homily in Westminster Cathedral, he said: "Uppermost in my mind today are those who were caught up in fighting in Iraq, especially those, on both sides, who lost their lives or their loved one.
"We should now pray for the people of Iraq whose terrible suffering in these past years must now give way to real hope for a better future guaranteed, at least in part. by the international community."
He also urged people to persevere in faith. He said: "Springtime reminds us there are fresh opportunities for renewal and hope and grace."