CHRISTIANITY AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Deliver Food, Not Missiles, to Iraq, Churches Tell U.S. and U.K. Governments

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CHRISTIANITY AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Deliver Food, Not Missiles, to Iraq, Churches Tell U.S. and U.K. Governments

As American and British missiles and military manpower massed in the Persian Gulf in early February for possible action against Iraq, church leaders in many countries, including Iraq, vigorously urged diplomacy rather than ultimatums, food aid rather than missiles and peace rather than war, according to Patricia LeFevere of Ecumenical News International (ENI), a religious news service, who prepared the following roundup of such statements and actions:

Three Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. began a fast to draw public attention to the plight of millions of Iraqi civilians suffering from a seven-year embargo laid down by the United Nations and enforced by the U.S.

Fifty-four of America's 350 Catholic bishops sent a letter to President Bill Clinton requesting a meeting with him and calling for "the immediate cessation of sanctions" which, they said, not only violated Catholic church teaching, but also "the human rights of the Iraqi people because they deprive innocent people of food and medicine."

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, one of the three bishops on a fast, visited Iraq in September, and told ENI that he was "stunned" by the disease, death and malnutrition he witnessed there.

He spoke of more than a million Iraqi civilian deaths -- 60,000 of them children who are succumbing at a rate of 4,500 a month -- since sanctions were imposed in August 1990. Similar figures have been confirmed by U.N. agencies.

U.N. Resolution 986 -- the so-called "oil-for-food" resolution -- was not resolving the problem, the bishop said. Only 53 percent of the $2 billion that Iraq receives every six months from its U.N.-approved oil sales is available for food and medicine for 22 million people. The rest paid for reparations to Kuwait and for U.N. expenses in Iraq. The "oil-for-food" resolution had diverted world attention from the tragedy, while in some respects aggravating it, Bishop Gumbleton said.

Retired Bishop Albert Ottenweller, aged 81, of Steubenville, OH, and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, CT have also been fasting. Bishop Rosazza told ENI he hoped his fast would draw attention to the crisis with Iraq. "Will we look back eight years from now and say that what our government is doing was prudent?" he asked.

The bishops said they had been influenced by a hand-written appeal forwarded to U.S. bishops by eight Iraqi bishops representing six Catholic and two Orthodox dioceses.

"We appeal to all Catholics and to all Christians in America and the world," the Iraqi prelates wrote. "The sanctions are killing our people, our children, the ones Christ has given us to protect. They are killing our beloved Muslim brothers and sisters. They strike at our poor and our sick most of all. In the name of God's people we ask you: tell your government to end the sanctions against the Iraqi people. End the seven years of war against Iraq."

Those who signed were the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, the Chaldean Bishop of Baghdad, the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, the Archbishop of the Armenian Catholicos in Iraq, the Archbishop of Basrah, the Archbishop of the Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop.

In another episcopal letter on Feb. 5, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who chairs the U.S. Catholic Bishops' International Policy Committee, wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright requesting a "reshaping" of the embargo.

Archbishop McCarrick's letter cautioned against the use of military force, which he said "could pose an undue risk to an already suffering civilian population, could well be disproportionate to the ends sought, and could fail to resolve legitimate concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

Pope John Paul II, who made 50 appeals for peace before and during the Gulf war, said in Rome on Feb. …