Pope extends olive branch as Europe goes to war
BY LUKE COPPEN AND BRUCE JOHNSTON IN ROME
THE HOLY SEE was seeking an urgent resolution to the crisis in Kosovo this week, in a desperate bid to bring the Serbs back to the negotiating table and avert a deepening of the humanitarian disaster faced by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.
Sources in Rome said that the Pope is considering a visit to Belgrade, in an effort to secure peace. They said that a visit could be squeezed into the pontiff's schedule as he returns home from a three-day trip to Bucharest in May.
John Paul II made a ringing appeal for peace during the Palm Sunday Mass at St Peter's.
He said: "The Pope is with all those who are suffering and he declares to everyone: it is always time for peace!
"It is never too late to meet and negotiate."
With an olive branch in his hand, he said: "These olive branches could serve as symbols of the peace that the people of the Balkans are looking for."
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who described the NATO air strikes as a "defeat for humanity" when they began on March 24, said that the Vatican is talking to all parties in the conflict.
"The Holy See invites everyone to return to dialogue as soon as possible and to find honourable answers for all the parties," he said. The Vatican is negotiating with Serbian Orthodox leaders and is putting diplomatic pressure on NATO countries through its nunciatures.
The Pope is expected to discuss the crisis with three Russian ministers who are travelling to Rome from Belgrade, where they met peace broker Richard Holbrooke.
In Britain, the Church responded cautiously to the escalating crisis.
A statement issued by Bishop David Konstant on behalf of the Bishops' Conference Department for International Affairs said that military force "aimed solely at stopping intolerable aggression against civilians and at restarting negotiations" might be legitimate, if deeply regrettable.
Asked by The Catholic Herald if the NATO action was morally justified, Bishop Konstant answered: "It's really not for me to say.
"It's really only for those who make the political judgements to make a judgement on that.
"It can only be the people who know the facts who can judge the rightness or otherwise of the action. None of us, neither you nor I, can make a judgement about whether this is an effective way of doing things."
But he did deplore the growing refugee crisis on the border between Kosovo and Albania.
"It is appaling if people are forced out of their homes," Bishop Konstant said.
"Whatever can be done to relieve the plight of these refugees must be done. Every country that is involved needs to do what they can to look after the refugees."
Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, said the NATO bombings breached international law.
"This act of war has not been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, does not have the support of the Contact Group on Kosovo, contravenes the sovereign status of a recognised state, is likely to cause further civilian casualties and could lead to an escalation of conflict," a joint statement issued with the National Peace Council said.
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw, wife of the late war-hero Leonard Cheshire VC — who of any British pilot flew the most bombing missions during the Second World War —told The Catholic Herald that she believed something had to be done to prevent Slobodan Milosevic eliminating ethnic Albanian Kosovans.
Baroness Ryder said: "As regards the consequences of this, possibly they have underestimated the determination of the Serbs not to be defeated."
Action of Churches Together in Scotland which includes the Scottish Catholic Justice and Peace Commission — said: "The long-term consequences of this profligate use of force, in the absence of a clear, achievable polit ical objective, are profoundly serious."
It challenged the sidelining of the United Nations, which it said was the only international body capable of resolving the tension between Serbia's sovereignty and ethnic Albanians' human rights.
On Monday, the Vatican news agency Fides, reported that three Franciscan friars are missing in Kosovo following the NATO bombing and the Serbian offensive. They were based in a friary in Djakovica.
John Gummer—p6 Fiona Fox—p6 The Pope: "I deeply hope that the weapons can be silenced as soon as possible and that the dialogue and negotiations can begin again so that finally... a just and lasting peace can be reached in the whole region."
Cardinal Hume: "Although I find myself very distressed about the present situation in Kosovo and am very worried that a difficult situation may well be made worse, we have to recognise that the plight of the people of Kosovo could not be ignored."
(Anglican) Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford: "The Church asks those responsible for taking such decision to consider in their calculations the tradition of moral thinking associated with the idea of a 'just war'."
Bishop Konstant of Leeds: "The use of military force by the international community can only be justified as a last resort to prevent the gross and systematic violation of human rights."
Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks: "I support the NATO intervention in Kosovo and I pray that it succeeds. But when it's over, all the problems will still remain... When will we learn that peace doesn't grow from the barrel of a gun?"
Patriarch Alexis I of Moscow: "We are convinced that only patient dialogue and peaceful settlement of all political differences can lead to the resolution of tension around Kosovo."
Mgr Franc Perko, Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade: "Christians can do very little now but to pray that a desire for peace will eventually illuminate this part of the Balkans."
Bruce Kent: "Perhaps Dr Carey and Cardinal Hume could go together to Belgrade to hold talks with the Serbian Orthodox leadership?"