Pope John Paul II has decided to send one of his senior cardinals to Iraq on a personal peace mission. The aim is to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of the need to cooperate with the United Nations. The pope is extremely concerned about a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. He is aware that time is running out, and that the patience of the international community has reached its limit. But he has said that such a war would be a defeat for humanity.
Pope John Paul has expressed his opposition to a war in Iraq on numerous occasions in recent days. And in an effort to avert a conflict, he has decided to send one of his senior cardinals to meet with Iraqi authorities.
A statement by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls on Sunday said that French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray would leave the Vatican on Monday to try to convince Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of the need to cooperate with the international community.
The cardinal has carried out delicate missions for the pope in the past.
The statement said that the mission was "to show to all the plea of the Holy Father in favor of peace and to help the Iraqi authorities to make a series of reflections on the need for effective international cooperation, based on justice and international law, with the aim of assuring this population the supreme good of peace."
Earlier on Sunday, the pope addressed the faithful in Saint Peter's Square. He appealed for prayers throughout the world to avert a war. He said that, at this moment of international worry, it appears that only God can stop a conflict from taking place.
The pope is scheduled to meet with the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, at the Vatican next Friday on the same day that U.N. weapons inspectors are to deliver their progress report to the U.N. Security Council.
The pontiff is also expected to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on February 18.