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Many Faiths, Joined Together for Prayer in San Francisco,
Call for End to Unjust War on Iraq -- and on America's Poor

March 2 Event Occurs on Eve of NCC Meetings, in Moscow, with High Government and Religious Officials

March 2, 2003, SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The Bush Administration’s headlong rush to attack Iraq would be an unjust war made even more egregious by President Bush’s plan to cut programs for children and families struggling with poverty at home, according to an array of national and California-based groups that gathered at Grace Cathedral on Sunday, March 2, for an interfaith prayer service on the connection between war and poverty.

More than 2,000 people joined together to call for peaceful solutions to the conflict with Iraq that will spare lives and refocus the administration’s attention and resources on the needs of American families at home. The service featured sermons and speeches interspersed with readings from passages of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu holy writings.  Other faiths represented included Baha'i, Shinto and Unitarian Universalist.

Religious leaders decried the Bush Administration’s willingness to spend hundreds of billions on warfare while neglecting vital domestic programs, including health care services, childcare, after-school programs and, most importantly, public education - the most effective pathway for low-income children to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

"Imagine that the kind of time, creativity and money that are being poured into preparations for war against Iraq were being poured instead into the challenge of ending poverty in the United States and around the world," said Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches, among sponsors of the interfaith service.

"The war on Iraq is not a just war. It can be prevented if we mobilize the other ‘super power’ - world opinion - to stand up and say no to war," Dr. Edgar said. "In the absence of compelling evidence that Iraq poses an imminent military threat, we will continue to press for a peaceful solution in which the innocent families of Iraq are spared the terrible scourge of war. Even in the face of the Administration’s insistence that a war is unavoidable, we believe America can win without war."

"I speak on behalf of the children," said United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana of West Sacramento, Calif. "What does it say to children in the United States when they see their president and Congress vote for violence as a way to deal with things they don’t like?

"In the midst of war and the rumors of war, we must speak for the vulnerable who have no voice in the negotiations," Bishop Shamana continued. "We plead for the children and families of Iraq who continue to suffer from the economic effects of sanctions and from life under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, but they would likely suffer more were the U.S to launch an attack. We plead for the young men and women of our armed forces and all those whose lives would be placed in harm’s ways from a renewed war with Iraq."

Bishop Shamana called on the United States to "lay down the muscle of weapons" and turn to the "muscle of the heart."

Other speakers on Sunday included Jonah Edelman, executive director of Stand for Children; Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Congregation Emanu-el; Omar Ahmad, the national board chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Father Louis Vitali of the St. Boniface Jesuits.

During the service, children read passages from the Koran and Hebrew and Christian scripture and singer-songwriter Stephan Smith performed his song "The Bell," which has become the unofficial anthem of the new anti-war movement. The event also included a photo installation of Iraqi children. The event was sponsored by the NCC, Working Assets, the socially responsible long distance carrier, United Religions Initiative, San Francisco Interfaith Council, Grace Cathedral, and California Council of Churches/California Church IMPACT.

As the countdown to a decision about the war intensifies, religious groups are reaching across all boundaries to call for peaceful resolution. Sunday’s service took place just one day before a National Council of Churches (NCC) delegation departs for a three-day (March 3 - 5) visit to Moscow to speak with top government and religious officials about the prospect of war on Iraq.

The visit represents the last stop in a series of high-level meetings that the delegation has had with top leaders of the U.N. Security Council, including Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, Britain’s Prime Minister Blair, and the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. The delegation met with Pope John Paul II February 26 in Rome to request that the Pope address the U.N. Security Council on his opposition to war. The Bush administration has not yet replied to a January 30 request from 50 U.S. church leaders for a meeting before he decides whether or not to launch war on Iraq.

Sunday’s event kicked off the NCC's second annual "Poverty March," a month-long initiative each March and led by faith communities to overcome poverty. The nation’s most comprehensive ecumenical organization, the NCC brings together 36 communions organized in 140,000 churches with 50 million members. As a leading voice in the worldwide effort to push for a peaceful solution to the war in Iraq, the NCC has joined forces with the "Win Without War" coalition, launched a high-profile anti-war advertising campaign and partnered with True Majority to send more than 200,000 letters to Congress opposing the war in Iraq.

"As people of faith, we are one in our concern about the rush to war," Dr. Edgar said. "We are one in our opposition to thinking war is an option."

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