From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: NCC delegation returns from Iraq with warning against war
Fri, 10 Jan 2003 11:03:48 -0500
January 10, 2003
Episcopalians: NCC delegation returns from Iraq with warning
by James Solheim
(ENS) A 13-member delegation of church leaders returned from a
four-day humanitarian visit to Iraq at the end of 2002 with a
warning that a war would make the United States less secure and
result in widespread suffering and death for many innocent
people. The delegation was formed in response to an invitation
from the Middle East Council of Churches and was led by the Rev.
Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of
"We believe the entire region, including Israel and the United
States, will be at greater risk of terrorism if war takes
place," the delegation said in a January 3 statement "Sowing the
Seeds of Peace." The statement also argues that "a preemptive
war would be immoral, illegal and theologically illegitimate and
profoundly violates our Christian beliefs and religious
principles." Participants pledged to meet with leaders of
Congress and the Bush Administration, as well as United Nations
Security Council members, to support humanitarian aid for Iraqi
citizens, especially children.
"Ours is a religious and not a political delegation," the
statement said. "We came to see the faces of the Iraqi people so
that the American people can see the faces of children laughing
and singing and also hurting and suffering.We are called by God
to be peacemakers. War is not inevitable and can be averted,
even at this moment."
The delegation visited schools and hospitals and "saw for
ourselves the devastating impact of 12 years of sanctions on the
people of Iraq. We touched babies suffering illnesses that can
be prevented by proper medication currently unavailable to the
people of Iraq," the statement reported. United Nations
officials "shared heartbreaking stories of malnutrition, disease
and hunger with us."
The delegation prayed with Christians and Muslims in the
birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. Only three or four percent of Iraqis are Christian.
"On the street and in informal settings we experienced the
spontaneous warmth, hospitality and openness of the Iraqi
people," the statement said, concluding with an admonition
offered by the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church:
"Together we must sow the seeds of peace and let God water and
nurture the seeds."
The delegation also met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq
Aziz and asked "pointed questions" about the human rights
situation in Iraq, the opportunities for dissent and criticism
of the government, and choices made by the government with the
resources available to it, making it clear that "we do not
support authoritarian governments." Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic
Christian who, according to local church leaders, attends church
several times a year. His wife is a very devout and active
member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
The threat of war
Ginger Paul of Louisiana, who represents the Episcopal Church on
the executive board of the NCC, said that she and other members
of the delegation were "appalled at the conditions for children
in the hospitals and schools." She said it was clear that the
Iraqis blame the situation on the sanctions imposed by the
United Nations following Operation Desert Storm, the Gulf War in
"The possibility of war is on the minds of everyone," Paul
reported, "and almost everyone we met pleaded for us to help
prevent it. One woman reminded us that they have been at war for
over 20 years." A Christian woman told the group that she had
lived through the other wars and expected that she would live
through another war, expressing a kind of resignation, according
to Paul. Iraqis kept asking members of the delegation, "Why is
war necessary at this time?" Some said it was for reasons of
revenge, oil, support for Israel or a desire of the Americans to
exercise control over the region.
During a visit to a hospital for infants and children, "we
entered wards with very sick children, some of them dying," Paul
added. "But the mothers smiled at us and held out their babies
to touch. It was a very profound, non-verbal connection--one
that happened everywhere." The group's itinerary was closely
monitored and "none of us had any illusions about whether we
were going to get a complete picture of the situation," said
Paul. "But we did our best in such a short time to put a human
face on the issue."
Edgar said that he returned from Iraq "committed more than ever
that our churches are right in opposing the war. It just doesn't
meet the 'just war' criteria." He is also convinced that the
children of Iraq will suffer the most. "They will be the biggest
casualties. This war would have far more impact on ordinary
civilians than did the Gulf War."
--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.
Additional information and photos on the Iraqi visit are
available on the NCC web site at http://www.ncccusa.org/.
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