John Paul II Renews Appeal for Prayers for Peace in Mideast

Receives Proposal for Iraq From Italian Group

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 12, 2004 ( John Paul II again appealed for prayers for peace in the world, especially in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Pope made his appeal at the end of today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, when he received a peace plan for Iraq presented by Franco Vaccari, founder of the Rondine, Italy-based Citadel of Peace, an institution that aims to foster dialogue among the world’s youth.

When presenting the proposal, Vaccari, 52, a Catholic psychologist who is married and father of four, was accompanied by four bishops of the Tuscany region of central Itay, as well as by the superior general of the Camaldolese Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict, and the superior of the Franciscan Shrine of La Verna.

«I renew the invitation to pray for peace in the world, especially in Iraq and the Middle East,» the Holy Father said when greeting his visitors.

«May those beloved populations be able, with the support of the international community, to walk with determination on the path of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation,» he said.

The first stage of the Citadel of Peace plan for Iraq is a Day of Prayer, which will be held May 21 in the La Verna shrine, located on the mountain in which St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata. It calls for the participation of Christians of all confessions, as well as of leading Jewish and Muslim authorities in Italy.

«If we aspire to great things,» Vaccari said, «it is necessary to realize again that we are creatures, children of the same Father, with a more humble and penitential attitude.»

A second stage will be the signing this month of «a joint political commitment» by politicians and cultural leaders calling for «the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean military force to involve countries that at present are outside the war.»

«It is clear today that one cannot flee from Iraq or stay there at any price, nor request the participation of the U.N., weakening its role, as now it cannot do what it is being asked to do,» Vaccari said.

«It is necessary to replace the forces in the area,» he told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. «Those who defeated the regime … are perceived as a force of occupation. Europe must now play an active role, together with the Arab countries. It is illusory to wait for June 30. It is better to impose oneself soonest on the inertia and to propose new ways.»

According to Vaccari, this plan «is the negation of any form of anti-Americanism. We seek to return to sit at the table, to plan the future with the objective of achieving peace as soon as possible.»

It is the opportunity, he said, to see «who really seeks peace or who pursues other interests.»

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