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U.S. Church Leaders, in Rome, Ask Pope to Address Security Council

Related Story: 2/26/03: International Church Leaders Bring Plea for Peace to U.S. Capital

Photos Courtesy Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy:
1) Papal audience (Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM; the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, NCC; Dr. Victor Makari, delivering the Pax Christi and NCC request for Pope John Paul II to address the United Nations.  Far right: Dr. Renato Maiocchi, Executive Secretary of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.
2 and 3) The NCC in the Italian Parliament meeting with Vice President of the "Camera dei Deputati" (Congress), Hon. Fabio Mussi and Congressman Hon. Valdo Spini.

February 27, 2003, ROME, Italy - A U.S. church leaders delegation in Rome February 26-27 delivered a plea to Pope John Paul II during a public audience Wednesday, asking that he come to New York to address the U.N. Security Council "and, in so doing, address the U.S. public" on his opposition to war with Iraq.

NCC Delegation Meets with Pope John Paul IIThe visit to Rome is the fourth organized by the National Council of Churches USA to European member countries of the Security Council. During Wednesday’s public audience with Pope John Paul II, the delegation handed the Pope a letter that expresses "deep gratitude for all the Vatican is doing to avert a war in Iraq."

"Your voice, however, has barely been captured by the media in the United States," the letter says. Acknowledging the burden that coming to the United Nations would place on the Pope’s frail health, they express their "desperation" and write, "(E)levating your moral voice could make all the difference … in helping the U.S. pull back from the brink of war."

Father Joe Nangle of Washington, D.C., a Franciscan representing Pax Christi USA on the delegation, presented the letter to the Pope. The letter, signed by Dave Robinson, National Coordinator, Pax Christi USA, supports a request from Pax Christi International. The National Council of Churches’ Executive Board on February 25 unanimously endorsed the request.

Reported Father Nangle, "When we approached the Pope we made our pitch. It’s almost like a sound bite. You don’t have much time. It’s an emotional moment and you hope that you get your message through. We hope that your prayers will be with us and with him as he hears those pleas."

During the papal audience the peace concerns of other people in attendance were not far away, reported the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, New York, NCC Deputy General Secretary and a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister. "On two occasions people cried out ‘Give peace a chance’ or ‘Stand for peace,’" she said.

Today (Thursday, February 27), the delegation discussed the request with Msgr. Giampaolo Crepaldi, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who said he would present the request to the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Pled the Rev. Dr. Tyrone Pitts, General Secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Washington, D.C., "Help us find a way to peace. If this war proceeds, the devastation will affect every nation."

Meeting with Vice President of Italy's CongressHosted in Rome by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, the six-member delegation also met on Wednesday with Fabio Mussi, the Vice President of Italy’s Congress, and a Deputy Minister, Valdo Stini, an active Waldensian churchman.

Mr. Mussi and Mr. Stini are "both quite outspoken and known for their position" against using force against Iraq, said Rev. Dr. Victor Makari, Coordinator for the Middle East and Europe, Presbyterian Church (USA), Louisville, Ky.

"They spoke bluntly and at great length to make the point that, if this war is launched, there will be incalculable damage and irreparable damage, beyond anyone’s ability to calculate, and it will be generations and generations before it will be repaired, if ever.

"They said it would break up the United Nations because it would be the will of one country against the other nations of the international community," Dr. Makari said. "It would divide Europe -- a division we can’t afford to have especially after so many years of working for union. It would marginalize the European Union and create huge internal and religious problems especially in countries where there are significant Muslim minorities. And it would set West against East and East against West."

Commented delegation member, Dr. Pitts, "I was really energized by the meeting with Mr. Mussi and Mr. Stini. We must go back to the United States and be very clear about the immorality of this war."

Meeting with Vice President of Italy's CongressThe NCC delegation’s agenda also included a meeting with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, where Msgr. John Mutiso-Mbinda, a senior staff associate, stressed the importance of Christians being "living letters" to one another, a concept promoted by the World Council of Churches, reported the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Office of Ecumenicity, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Calif. "The Monsignor said that we must stand together, pray together and act together as the Gospel requires," she said.

The delegation’s schedule also included other meetings with Italian church leaders, public worship at a packed-full Baptist Church near the Italian Parliament, a news conference and several one-on-one media interviews.

Describing the delegation’s message to a reporter, William Boyd Grove of Charleston, W. Va., a retired United Methodist Bishop, said U.S. churches are putting "an enormous amount of energy" toward averting the war on Iraq….A great majority of U.S. churches are opposing the war and seeking to find another way to resolve the conflict with Iraq. Taking this opportunity to make that known is important, because sometimes the people overseas don’t understand the churches’ opposition to the war in Iraq."

Asked why averting war with Iraq is a priority for American Christians, Dr. Lindner reported, "We said it’s the highest form of patriotism in a democratic society to express your views, and the most sincere form of Christian fidelity to work for peace." The delegation visit concluded Thursday evening with agreement between the NCC and Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy of their "sincere and deep commitment to peace; absence of any anti-American sentiment; sober reflection on the devastation war would cause; a European determination to resist the pressures to divide Europe, create a religious war or destroy the U.N., and considerable hope that an alternative to war can be found," Dr. Lindner said.

Earlier NCC delegations have met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. A fifth delegation to Moscow March 3-5 has an appointment with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

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