BY TRACY-JO SMITH ...„
JOHN PAUL II has declared Ash Wednesday a day of prayer and fasting for peace, especially in the Middle East.
The Pope made the announcement before praying the midday Angelus last Sunday with the crowds gathered in St Peter's Square, He said: "I invite all Catholics to dedicate with special intensity, next March 5 to prayer and fasting for the cause of peace.
"Above all, let us implore God for the conversion of hearts and a generous view in just decisions to resolve with adequate and peaceful means the contests that hamper the pilgrimage of humanity in our time.
"In every Marian shrine an ardent prayer for peace will be raised to heaven with the praying of the holy rosary," the Pope said. "I trust that also in parishes and families the rosary will be prayed for this great cause on which the good of all depends."
The call to prayer and fasting is the latest expression of the Pope's fervent opposition to the outbreak of war against Iraq. In a rapid round of diplomacy, the Pontiff has received the Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Iraqi deputy prime Minister Tariq Aziz and German foreign affairs minister JoschIca Fischer, who is the current president of the UN security council. The Holy Father has also sent Cardinal Roger Etchegaray to Iraq, to meet Saddam Hussein personally.
During his address on Sunday, the Pope said: "From now on, we invoke for this initiative, which is placed at the beginning of Lent, the special assistance of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Peace. Through her intercession, may the evangelical beatitude 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God' re-sonate with a new force in the world and find concrete acceptance!"
In recognition of the Pope's efforts towards world peace, John Paul has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, according to sources at the Norwegian Nobel Institute. The Institute's director, Geir Lundestad, said: "We have a total of 150 nominees to date; 21 of which are organisations."
The Pontiff's name appears yearly on the list of candidates. However, a Nobel panel member, Lutheran Bishop Gunnar Staalseth of Oslo, said in 2001 that the Pope would not win a peace prize, because of the Church's opposition to condoms in the fight against AIDS. In statements published in August of that year, he said: "The current Roman Catholic theology is one that favours death, rather than life."
The cut-off date for peace prize nominations was February 1, although the five members of the award committee may propose additional names at a later date.
Other Nobel peace prize candidates this year include Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, former Governor George Ryan of Illinois, who commuted the death sentences of inmates, and Bono, singer of the rock group U2.