- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

VATICAN CITY War must and can be avoided even in a world made fearful by terrorism, Pope John Paul II insisted in a Christmas message that stepped up the Vatican's campaign against a war in Iraq.
"May humanity accept the Christmas message of peace," he declared yesterday.
Thousands of tourists and pilgrims stood in a light drizzle at St. Peter's Square to hear the ailing pontiff deliver his annual Christmas Day message, "Urbi et Orbi" Latin for "to the city and to the world."
They screamed and clapped in delight when John Paul, wearing gold-colored robes, was driven in a white, open-topped vehicle through the square, past a life-size Nativity creche and a towering Christmas tree.
The 82-year-old pontiff's voice sometimes trembled and his words often slurred as he read his speech from the central steps of St. Peter's Basilica.
"From the cave of Bethlehem there rises today an urgent appeal to the world not to yield to mistrust, suspicion and discouragement, even though the tragic reality of terrorism feeds uncertainties and fears," the pope said.
John Paul deplored the "senseless spiral of blind violence" in the Middle East and called on the world to "extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided."
Although he did not mention Iraq by name, the pope's comments reflected the Vatican's widely known opposition to U.S. plans for a likely attack on Iraq.
When a U.S.-led coalition prepared to invade Afghanistan last year in response to the September 11 attacks, Vatican officials said there was a moral right to defend the common good against terrorism.
But in recent weeks, the Vatican has said repeatedly that Catholic teaching does not consider "preventive" strikes a justification for taking up arms.
The Bush administration insists Iraq is harboring weapons of mass destruction, and has been lobbying for international support for an attack.

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