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A Statement on Iraq from the Catholic Bishops of Australia

Australia’s Catholic bishops today urged Christians to mark Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season, with intensified prayers and fasting for peace.

“As the world and our nation face the fearful possibility of conflict in Iraq and the continuing threat of terrorism, we heed the call of Pope John Paul II to mark this holy day and time with special prayer and fasting for peace,” they said in a statement.

“Because ‘war is always a defeat for humanity’, we support the Holy Father’s call for leaders to say No to War and to search exhaustively for peaceful solutions through the United Nations.”

He has said that the answer to avoiding war lies in observing international law, engaging in honest dialogue and diplomacy and rejecting the culture of death.

We realise all too well the dangers posed by the Iraqi leadership to the Iraqi people, to the Middle East region and to the world. We join with Pope John Paul II in insisting that Iraq make “concrete commitments” to meet the legitimate demands of the international community and avoid war.

With the Holy See and many bishops and religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that the strict conditions of Christian teaching for the use of military force against Iraq have not been met.

In particular, we question the moral legitimacy of a pre-emptive strike. Indeed, any action against Iraq without broad international support and the mandate of the United Nations Security Council would be questionable.

Our thoughts go out to the Iraqi people who have suffered so terribly over many years, that they might be spared further conflict and destruction in their homeland. We pray they will one day know true justice and freedom. We extend the hand of friendship to Iraqi people who have made their home in Australia.

Our prayers and support are with the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have been deployed to the region, and also with their families. We pray God protects them and brings them safely home.

We understand there are no easy answers in this complex situation and recognise that opinions will differ on how best to deal with the threat posed by the Iraqi regime.

We pray for political leaders everywhere that in the days and weeks ahead, cool heads and wisdom will prevail as they explore every avenue for a solution to the current crisis, terrorism and other threats to peace.

We join the Pope in urging all Catholics to dedicate their Lenten fasting and prayer “for the conversion of hearts and the long-range vision of just decisions to resolve disputes with adequate and peaceful means”.

At this perilous time in world history, we invite all Australians to pray that our world will find ways other than war to secure justice, increase security and promote genuine peace for all of God’s people.

Ash Wednesday Masses will be celebrated at Catholic churches across Australia today.

Released by Debra Way at the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

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