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Catholics urged to pray for peace in Iraq crisis

Friday, March 07, 2003

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As the Vatican stepped up efforts to avert a war between the United States and Iraq, local Catholic leaders are urging their followers to make prayers for peace part of their Lenten devotions.

In a letter displayed across the top of the front page of this week's Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh asked Catholics to pray and fast for peace during Lent. Bishop Anthony Bosco of Greensburg made a similar request in his regular column of The Catholic Accent. And the local superiors of 12 Catholic religious orders signed an ad in this week's Pittsburgh Catholic opposing a U.S. war against Iraq.

"I cannot help but believe that our prayers and fasting will be pleasing in the sight of God as an offering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers throughout the world in an effort to avoid war," Wuerl wrote.

Wuerl issued the call because "he feels that there is a real threat of war and all that accompanies it -- loss of life, destruction," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"He did this in response to Pope John Paul II's concern about doing all we can to promote peace in the world during this season of Lent, which is traditionally a time of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and showing concern for other people."

John Paul, who opposed the Persian Gulf war of 1991, has sent personal envoys to Baghdad and Washington, D.C., to appeal for further diplomatic efforts to achieve Iraqi disarmament. In November, the U.S. bishops issued a statement saying that the current case against Iraq fell short of traditional Christian standards for fighting a "just war."

After his meeting with President Bush Wednesday, papal envoy Cardinal Pio Laghi said that any action against Iraq should be taken by the United Nations, and that there were still "peaceful avenues" for achieving Iraqi disarmament.

"A decision regarding the use of military force can only be taken within the framework of the United Nations, but always taking into account the grave consequences of such an armed conflict: the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operation, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity," Laghi said.

The ad signed by leaders of Catholic religious communities closely followed the arguments of Laghi and the U.S. bishops:

"We believe that a war between the United States and Iraq, especially without the broad support and participation of the United Nations member countries, will only engender more strife, hatred and violent acts against our country and its citizens, rather than sowing the seeds of future world peace."

It was signed by the local superiors of the Sisters of Divine Providence, Capuchin Friars, Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Spiritans, Sisters of the Holy Spirit, Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of St. Francis of Whitehall, Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale, Sisters of the Humility of Mary, Sisters of Mercy and Benedictine Sisters.

In his column for Greensburg Catholics, Bosco reiterated the Lenten call for prayers for peace.

"Special prayers and special acts of penance before the Prince of Peace can perhaps avert a cataclysm," he wrote.

Ann Rodgers-Melnick can be reached at arodgersmelnick-@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.

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