In an official statement, meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said today that the Pope received the news of the start of the war with "deep pain."

The director of the Vatican press office said: "On the one hand, it is to be regretted that the Iraqi government did not accept the resolutions of the United Nations and the appeal of the Pope himself, as both asked that the country disarm."

"On the other hand," Navarro-Valls said, "it is to be deplored that the path of negotiations, according to international law, for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi drama has been interrupted."

The Holy See noted with satisfaction "that the various Catholic institutions in Iraq continue to perform their activities of assisting those populations," he said.

"To contribute to this work of solidarity even the apostolic nunciature, headed by Archbishop Fernando Filoni, will remain open in this period in its office in Baghdad," the Vatican spokesman concluded.