by Rita Wall
PRIESTS, nuns and brothers were asked this week to consider offering themselves as hostages in place of those currently held in Iraq. The plea was made by a officials of a Catholic-based charity.
Mr Danny Lillis of Refugee Year, who recently returned from Iraq, called on those religious who have experience of being detained or of living in a crisis area to step forward in an attempt to get hostages home for Christmas.
Mr Lillis, who travelled to Baghdad with Fr Kevin Doheny, president of the charity, met with top Iraqi officials to discuss a package of peace initiatives which were "positively received" (Catholic Herald, November 2). Fr Doheny is still in Baghdad awaiting a second round of talks with officials and hopes at least to have an interview with president Saddam Hussein.
"Many of the hostages are ill and psychological difficulties are beginning to arise," Mr Lillis said. "Morale will be low at Christmas, and there is a spiritual tradition of helping others at this time."
Several people have already approached Refugee Year with offers to travel out to Iraq and replace hostages being held there he said. And Iraqi government officials had indicated that the idea might be acceptable, Mr Lillis said.
The hostages were clearly being held as a "human shield" in case of against war, Mr Lillis said. "Are they not better having holy women and men as their shield?" he asked.
The idea would be raised again soon at a second round of talks in Baghdad. "There might be a possibility that the Iraqis would allow us to replace the 'human shield' on a short term basis, that in fact we could move people over and back," Mr Lillis said.
Refugee Year officials have suggested to the Iraqi authorities that there be an international peace meeting to solve the Gulf Crisis.
Mr Lillis said his charity remained extremely concerned at the plight of refugees in the Gulf region. "There are now one million refugees fleeing from Kuwait, and many more who would like to leave Iraq," he said.
Already medical supplies were running out in Iraq and people were queuing for food. Refugee Year has offered to organise humanitarian supplies to Iraq. "These would be in strict accordance with international law," Mr Lillis said. Supplies would include baby food and medicines.
The Iraqis are stilt considering an offer from Mother Teresa, patron of Refugee Year, to send a group of her Missionaries of Charity to Iraq to help relieve the plight of vulnerable people affected by the UN sanctions, Mr Lillis reported.