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Peace message from Baghdad

The following was read aloud by the Iraq Peace Journey at a prayer service at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church Dec. 18 in Baghdad. The service was planned by members of the Iraqi Christian community in Baghdad, including three bishops.

To all people of good will in the United States:

We U.S. religious leaders gather with our Iraqi brothers and sisters to pray for the common peace that we all desire. As women and men of faith, we have spent 10 days in Iraq during this season of preparation for Christmas. We have met people like ourselves, people who hunger for peace. The Iraqi people have welcomed us with open arms and begged us to share with you the reality of their struggle.

We implore you, our fellow citizens of the United States, to look into the eyes of the people in Iraq. See the Jesuit-trained doctor who can barely contain his despair and the Muslim mother who grieves for her dying son. Listen to the taxicab driver who fears for the safety of his family, the Catholic sister who cares for pregnant mothers, and the orphaned children who sleep fitfully at night waiting for the sound of bombs. These are the people of Iraq -- people who share our hopes and dreams for a peaceful world. All they want is to live with dignity in this ancient land of arid beauty.

But the Iraqi people have suffered for the past 12 years under the most comprehensive sanctions in modern history. Water and sewage treatment facilities are not functioning due to the lack of spare parts, and children die of water-born illnesses. Hospitals are crippled by old and broken-down machinery. Depleted uranium from U.S. munitions is linked to a 400 percent increase in the cancer rate in southern Iraq -- and this at a time when sanctions deny the people critical medicines needed for treatment of cancer and other diseases. The Iraqi people live lives of determined endurance, but many have revealed their anxiety and desperation. They ask us, “Why is this happening? Will sanctions end? Why can’t we have peace?”

These are the people our government is preparing to sacrifice as “collateral damage” in an unconscionable war. As we speak, Iraqi people live in fear of an attack that could happen any day.

People of good will, we who live in the United States also know what it means to live in fear. We fear for the future of our families and our children. We fear the unpredictable violence of terrorism. We dread the weapons of mass destruction that exist in many nations, including our own, and that threaten the future of our entire planet.

Our government suggests that war is the answer to our fears. But war will never protect us -- it will endanger the entire human family. A war against the people of Iraq will slaughter thousands of innocent men, women and children in a land already devastated by sanctions. A war could also kill and injure countless young Americans. And a war will unleash violent repercussions and terrorist acts that could destroy our world.

War is not the answer. We must seek a path to peace.

Therefore, people of good will, join us in insisting that our government stop this madness and commit to a path of active nonviolent resolution. We as ordinary people can reach out to our Iraqi brothers and sisters, who are people like ourselves. Together we can support the work of the United Nations and other international efforts to build peace. Together we can work to create a world free of weapons of mass destruction, a world free of sanctions, violence and war. Together we can build a world where our voices speak peace, peace for all people. Then we will witness the words of the psalmist, “Mercy and faithfulness will meet, justice and peace will embrace. … Justice shall march before us and peace shall follow in our steps” (Psalm 85).

Join us in prayer and action with all people of good will who yearn for this promise to flourish in our times.

In peace we pray,

Iraq Peace Journey: U.S. Religious Leaders Delegation

David Robinson, Erie, Pa., national director of Pax Christi USA; Mercy Sr. Kathy Thornton, Washington, national coordinator of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby; Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Columbus, Ga., national coordinator of the School of the Americas Watch; Sr. Simone Campbell of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento, Calif., lawyer, executive director of JERICHO, an interfaith social justice lobby ; Maryknoll Sr. Lil Mattingly, Maryknoll, N.Y.; Dominican Sr. Beth Murphy, Springfield, Ill., communications coordinator, Dominican Sisters of Springfield Ill.; Fr. John Grathwohl, Kalamazoo, Mich., diocesan priest; Sheila Provencher, South Bend, Ind., free-lance writer and speaker, lay minister; Mary Trotochaud, Western Massachusetts, member of the national advisory board of School of the Americas Watch; Chuck Quilty, Rock Island, Ill., co-founder, Voices in the Wilderness; Rick McDowell, Western Massachusetts, accompanied 14 delegations to Iraq, including an international delegation of Nobel Peace laureates.

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003