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 Wednesday, 25 December, 2002, 18:40 GMT
Church leaders warn against war
Royal Marine on desert exercise
British troops are training in Kuwait
Religious leaders including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are using their Christmas addresses to make clear their deep unease at the prospect of war with Iraq.

In a message to be broadcast shortly after midnight on 26 December on BBC Radio 4, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will take a hard anti-war line.

And on Christmas Day, in Rome, the Pope spoke of the peace of Christmas in a world with the shadow of terrorism and the "ominous smouldering of a conflict" hanging over it.

During the traditional Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also warned that war should not be seen as inevitable.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor prayed for peace

He said that peace on earth was a "permanent commitment" and that efforts to avoid conflict should never end.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor told worshippers: "We must never give up and assume that war is inevitable.

"Let us pray today, therefore, that each one of us, particularly those involved in international diplomacy and politics, will maintain our permanent commitment to building and maintaining peace in our world."

The Archbishop of Westminster's sentiments were echoed by the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, although he conceded war with Iraq might be necessary as a last resort.

'Mistakes will be made'

The Archbishop of York was the most senior clergyman in the Church of England to preach publicly this Christmas Day.

Dr David Hope, Archbishop of York
It may yet become necessary to contemplate some form of military intervention

Dr David Hope
Dr Hope told worshippers at York Minster that war as a method of resolving international disputes was incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.

He said that no matter how good weaponry was, mistakes would be made, resulting in the suffering and death of innocent people.

But given the disregard by Iraq of successive UN resolutions, "it may yet become necessary to contemplate some form of military intervention", Dr Hope added.

Such an intervention could only take place in the most extreme of circumstances and with the endorsement of the international community through a fresh UN resolution.

Bible analogy

Dr Hope also called for prayers for peace in the Middle East and a revitalisation of the peace process in the region.

Spiritual head of the Anglican church Dr Rowan Williams will use the analogy of the bible story of the Three Wise Men to mock strategists who, in spite of their political knowledge, end up creating "yet more havoc and suffering".

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams has openly opposed war with Iraq

On their way to Bethlehem the Three Wise Men tell King Herod of the birth of Jesus, prompting a massacre of children.

Dr Williams says it is as if the wise and resourceful cannot help making the most immense mistakes of all.

We are, he says, still tangled in the same net as the Wise Men, with better communications, intelligence and surveillance, but stepping ever deeper into tragedy.

Saddam's rallying call

In his traditional Christmas Day message, Urbi et Orbi, the Pope called for all religions to end the conflict in the Holy Land, describing it as a "senseless spiral of blind violence".

Without mentioning Iraq by name, the pontiff told pilgrims in St Peter's Square that with everyone's efforts the "ominous smouldering of a conflict" could be extinguished.

On Christmas Eve, seven Iraqi children delivered giant Christmas cards signed by thousands of people to Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging him not to go to war.

And in Baghdad Saddam Hussein delivered a rallying Christmas message on Iraqi television, warning US "lies" would be exposed and Iraq would emerge victorious from the current crisis.

  The BBC's Jannat Jalil
"The Pope delivered a strong warning against an attack on Iraq"
  Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope
delivers his speech at York Minster

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See also:

25 Dec 02 | Europe
24 Dec 02 | Middle East
20 Dec 02 | Middle East
23 Dec 02 | Middle East
24 Dec 02 | Middle East
25 Dec 02 | Middle East
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