Pope Sends Peace Envoy to Baghdad

Vatican City, Feb. 10--Cardinal Roger Etchegaray set out on a papal peace mission to Baghdad on Monday (Feb. 10), carrying a personal message from Pope John Paul II to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The pope is not resigned. He has decided to go to the extreme limits of hope, and I am his messenger," the 80-year-old French prelate told reporters at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport.

Etchegaray left shortly before an invitation-only talk in Rome by conservative American theologian Michael Novak to try to explain to Vatican critics why the Bush administration is determined to set a deadline within weeks for a preventive strike against Iraq.

Novak, who holds a chair at the Enterprise Institute in Washington, came to Rome at the request of the U.S. Embassies to Italy and the Vatican. He met Saturday with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The Vatican said in announcing Etchegaray's mission that he will try to convince the Saddam regime to avert war by complying with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 and cooperating with weapons inspectors. "The scope of the pontifical mission is to demonstrate to all the solicitude of the holy father for peace and then to help the Iraqi authorities to reflect seriously on the duty for effective international cooperation, based on justice and international law, in view of assuring those peoples the supreme good of peace," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

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The Vatican has made clear a preventive strike would not meet the criteria of the Catholic Church for a "just war," and the 82-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff has mounted an all-out peace offensive in recent days.

Following an audience Feb. 7 with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, John Paul will meet this Friday (Feb. 14) with Iraq's Vice Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, No. 2 in the Saddam regime, and is expected to confer four days later with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Vatican officials have said, however, there are no plans at present to send an envoy to talk to President Bush. Cardinal Pio Laghi, the Vatican's ambassador to Washington for 10 years during the Reagan administration, denied he had been chosen for the assignment but added, "You never know."

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Peggy Polk
Religion News Service
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