- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

From combined dispatches
ASSISI, Italy While big demonstrations were held around the world against war in Iraq, President Saddam Hussein's right-hand man held his own protest by praying silently before the tomb of St. Francis, the patron of peace.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Iraq's most prominent Christian, traveled to this Umbrian hill city of light pink stone far from the rallies.
"The people of Iraq want peace, and millions of people around the world are demonstrating for peace, so let us all work for peace and resist the war," he said in front of the Basilica of St. Francis, one of the world's most famous religious shrines.
Minutes earlier, Mr. Aziz committed himself to peace in front of the simple, grey stone tomb where the 13th-century saint whose name is synonymous with peace is buried.
Signing the basilica's guest book on the altar within inches of the tomb, he wrote in English: "May God the almighty grant peace to the people of Iraq and of the whole world. Amen."
Mr. Aziz, wearing a dark overcoat against the chill and damp of the underground tomb, knelt for a few minutes in silent prayer as the city's bishop denounced war, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
"We are convinced that wars have never resolved the problems of humanity," Bishop Sergio Goretti told Mr. Aziz.
Mr. Aziz came to Italy at his own request to meet Pope John Paul II, who has condemned U.S. threats of war. The two talked for 30 minutes Friday and Mr. Aziz assured the pontiff that Iraq would cooperate with the United Nations on disarmament demands.
The pope, who also has insisted on Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions, sent his envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, to Baghdad this past week with a personal message for Saddam.
Cardinal Etchegaray met with Saddam yesterday and said afterward that the church was serving as the "moral conscience" of humanity in opposing war and insisting on a peaceful outcome of the crisis.
At a press conference Friday, Mr. Aziz warned Europeans against supporting Washington in a war against Iraq, saying the impact would be felt across the Arab world.
In the gloom of the Assisi tomb, the Rev. Vincenzo Coli, the head of the community, showed Mr. Aziz an ivory horn that was given to St. Francis in 1219 by Melek el-Kamel, the sultan of Egypt. St. Francis went to the Middle East with the crusaders and is believed to have visited what is now modern-day Iraq.
"St. Francis used this horn to call his monks to prayer and the silence of peace. Let us try to remember that today amid all the noise," Father Coli said.
Mr. Aziz was then given a lamp that commemorated Jan. 24, 2002, when John Paul called leaders of world religions to Assisi to pray for peace and condemn terrorism after the September 11 attacks.
The congregation of some 25 people then read the prayer the pope wrote that day: "Violence never again. War never again. Terrorism never again. In God's name, may all religions bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love."

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