VATICAN, Mar 17, 03 (CWNews.com) -- Archbishop Renato Martino has argued against war on Iraq in the strongest language yet used by a Vatican official.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told a Vatican Radio audience that a war against Iraq would be "a crime against peace that would cry out for God's vengeance."

Archbishop Martino-- who was until recently the Vatican representative at the UN-- has been among the most outspoken prelates in Rome in his opposition to US plans for military action. He reacted strongly to the news that the US had withdrawn an proposal for UN approval of military plans. The archbishop complained, "To a country that is asking for bread after 12 years [of international economic sanctions], we are preparing to give 3,000 bombs."

If war does break out, Archbishop Martino said, "the Church will continue to insist, all the more strongly, on the necessity and urgency of peace." He added that, "as always, the Church will be the Good Samaritan," providing relief for those who suffer because of the war.

In a separate Vatican Radio interview, Iraqi Bishop Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary in Baghdad, called upon international leaders to "have pity on the children if Iraq, the young people, the aged, and the women-- who are in desperate need."



BAGHDAD, Mar 17, 03 (CWNews.com) - Christians in Iraq are
afraid they will be blamed by radical Muslims for any
attack by the international coalition led by the US and
Britain on Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a report
by the Reuters news service.

"Who can predict what will happen if the genie gets out of
the bottle?" Father Youssef Tuma told Reuters. "Prayers are
all we have left. In the event of an aggression by the West,
we pray the other party does not take it out on us or look
at Christians of the East as the cause," he said. Christian
leaders in Iraq, an officially secular country which has
tolerated a variety of religious groups, said they have
seen an increase in anti-Christian sentiment, mainly from
Sunni Wahhabis, followers of a very strict form of Islam
popular in Saudi Arabia.

Last August, a 70-year-old Catholic nun was murdered in a
style associated with Algerian Islamists. Her killers were
arrested and found with property stolen from the convent.
In September, Wahhabi radicals threw stones at Christians
coming out of a church in the northern city of Mosul.
Sources said Christians, even bishops and priests, have
received threats and enticements to convert to Islam.

While Saddam Hussein's Baathist party is officially
secular, it has sponsored a campaign to encourage Iraqis to
turn to religion, probably in an effort to quell radical
Islamic opposition. Dozens of mosques and religious schools
have been built across the country for use mainly by Wahhabi
clerics. Now Christians are fearful that the radical
Wahhabis--whose intolerance for other religions was seen
most dramatically in Afghanistan's Taliban regime--will
attack local Christians as a revenge against the West.
"They regard the American war as a crusade and this is
frightening. They associate us with the West," one Catholic
bishop, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.