End Mid-East war: Pope's appeal at Assisi

On a pilgrimage to St Francis of Assisi's birthplace, Pope Benedict has issued a "pressing appeal" for an end to armed conflicts in the Middle East, while in the NT Supreme Court four Pine Gap anti-war protesters have avoided jail after being found guilty under security laws.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Pope Benedict lamented the horrors of fighting and terrorism in Iraq and the Holy Land and decried "the illusion" that force could resolve conflicts.

The pope journeyed to Assisi, with its steep and stoney streets, to mark the 800th anniversary of the conversion of Francis of Assisi.

As Benedict put it, the young Francis went from living a "mediocre" life as the "king of partying" obsessed with fancy clothes to being a profoundly spiritual man, who stripped away his worldly wealth and won admirers throughout the centuries for his gentleness, love of nature, and dedication to peace.

The Pope said he considered it his duty in Francis' birthplace - "this city of peace" - to make "a pressing and heartfelt appeal so that all the armed conflicts that bloody the earth may cease, so that weapons may go silent and so that, everywhere, hate gives way to love, offence to forgiveness and discord to union."

"We feel spiritually close to all those who weep, who suffer and who die because of war and its tragic consequences in whatever part of the world," the Pope said at the end of Mass in a courtyard below St Francis Basilica, which houses the saint's tomb.

"I consider it my duty to launch from here a pressing and heartfelt appeal for a stop to all armed conflicts that bloody the earth," Pope Benedict said according to Javno.

"May weapons be silenced and may hate give way to love everywhere. May offence give way to forgiveness and discord to unity," he said at the mid-point of a day-long visit to one of Christianity's most visited and venerated places.

Assisi gathering praised

The Pope also praised an initiative of the late John Paul II which gathered representatives of various religions from around the world, including Muslims and Jews, in 1986 to pray in Assisi for the end of war.

"The spirit of Assisi ... goes against the spirit of violence, against abusing religion as a pretext for violence," Benedict said.

Benedict praised Francis as a man ahead of his time, for his "search for peace, protection of nature, promotion of dialogue."

"To speak of conversion means to go to the heart of the Christian message and together to the roots of human existence," the pope said.

The Pope also visited the pink-and-white stone St Clare's Basilica, where he was hugged joyously by cloistered nuns. He told them that the pilgrimage had invigorated him.

"Assisi is strength, also for the pope, to stay at the helm" of the Church, Pope Benedict concluded.

No jail for Pine Gap Four

Meanwhile in Australia, four Christian pacifists including a former Iraq "human shield" who draws her inspiration from St Francis of Assisi are celebrating after being spared prison sentences in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

The Pine Gap Trial blog reports that Donna Mulhearn, Adele Goldie, Jim Dowling and Bryan Law, who were found guilty of breaching the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 for entered Pine Gap's "Prohibited Area" to conduct a "Citizens' Inspection" in 2005, have been handed minor fines.

The public gallery erupted into song, applause, cheers and hugs and the feeling of victory and vindication was in the air, the report says.

Justice Sally Thomas noted their good behaviour and co-operation in the sentencing decision.

"All four were very genuine in the cause they sought to espouse," said Justice Thomas, "however their actions - no matter for what cause - cannot justify the breaking of the law."

Mr Dowling has been fined $1,250, Mr Law fined $1,000, Ms Mulhearn fined $450 and Ms Goldie fined $550. They have also been asked to contribute $2,500 each towards cost of fence repair.

Justice Thomas noted that Pine Gap has a significant history of protest and trespass, with past trespassers being fined.

"It's a big step up to talk about a jail sentence," she said in court on Thursday. "A prison sentence is one of last resort."

Following sentencing today Mr Law said "We have still won. For me it's not about trespass, it's a moral issue.

"Our action was and is calculated to effectively intervene into the war-fighting operation of Pine Gap, under the public gaze, as part of an effective campaign to limit the damage from war in Iraq in the short term, and bring about global disarmament in the medium term," he said.

Through tears former Iraq "human shield" Ms Mulhearn explained "I thought it was the least I could do given the magnitude of the crime I was trying to prevent."

"I was trying to fulfil the promise I had made to the people of Iraq to do something to stop the war," she said.

Pope Benedict decries fighting, terrorism in Middle East as he makes pilgrimage to peace town (International Herald Tribune, 17/6/07)
Pope, In Assisi, Urges End To Mideast Wars, Terror (Javno, 17/6/07)
No jail for Pine Gap Four (Pine Gap Four Live journal)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Peace on Earth (Webdiary)
Pine Gap 6
Australian Story: In Harm's Way
Conversation with Donna Mulhearn (Catholic Weekly 2/11/03)
Donna Mulhearn Pilgrim and Storyteller
Catholic Worker Movement

Jury members weep over Pine Gap guilty verdict (CathNews, 15/6/07)
Judge rejects house arrest for protesters (CathNews, 30/5/07)
Christian activist accuses Govt over security bungle (CathNews, 20/5/07)
World "sleepwalking" towards nuclear terrorism (CathNews, 9/10/06)
Trial continues for Christian activists in Pine Gap case (CathNews, 5/10/06)
$A60 billion new UK missiles "absurd": Scottish Cardinal (CathNews, 21/9/06)
Catholic peace activist faces 10 years jail in Ireland (CathNews, 6/7/06)
Christian protesters hampered by "secrecy" (CathNews, 20/4/06)
Catholic peacemaker receives ASIO treatment (CathNews 8/2/06)
Actor Martin Sheen supports Australian Catholic peace activist (CathNews 27/5/03)
Catholic activist challenges peace movement (CathNews 2/5/06)

18 Jun 2007