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Pope appeals to Blair against Iraq war

Pope John Paul II held a private audience on Saturday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, offering the Vatican an opportunity to voice its strong opposition to a possible war against Iraq.

The Vatican described the meeting as a "cordial" 30-minute conversation, adding that Blair also held talks with other top Vatican officials.

"The Holy Father expressed hope that, in solving the grave situation in Iraq, every effort is made to avoid new divisions in the world," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

British diplomats offered no details about the meetings and said Blair would not be available for comment because it was a private meeting.

Vatican officials stressed the need to resolve the crisis through the United Nations, and "to avert the tragedy of a war that is judged to be still avoidable by more sides," the statement said.

"Special consideration was given to the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people, already tried greatly by long years of embargo," the Vatican said.

John Paul has strongly argued that military action would be a "defeat for humanity", and he has spoken out against economic embargoes.


Blair in Rome has audience with pope (Deutsche Welle)
The Prime Minister has not made the moral case for war (London Independent)
Pope's plea to Blair (Herald-Sun)
Pope's peace plea to Blair (Sunday Mirror)
Blair in 'prickly' meeting at the Vatican (The Guardian)
Might I just have a quiet word? (The Times)
Politicians beating path to Vatican on Iraq war (International Herald Tribunal)
Full steam ahead: Blair disregards Pope's plea
Pope Urges Blair to Avert Tragedy of War (Reuters)
Pope Calls for Day of Peace on March 5 (Reuters)


Tony Blair is expected to become a Catholic when he steps down
as British Prime Minister, according to a report in Saturday's London Daily Mirror.

Senior figures in the Catholic Church in England, and friends of the Blairs, say he has wanted to convert for some time but will wait until he leaves office.

Downing Street said his religious leanings were a "private matter". But some figures in the Catholic Church privately say Mr Blair must make a choice - remain an Anglican or convert to Catholicism.

Mr Blair's wife Cherie and their four children are Catholics. A source close to the Blairs told the Daily Mirror: "He worships with them at Catholic churches."

Daily Mirror

24 Feb 2003