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Vatican to Bush: Iraq war would be 'disaster'

White House: 'Disarmed Iraq would leave the world safer'

Bush and Laghi discuss the possible war with Iraq.
Bush and Laghi discuss the possible war with Iraq.

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Cardinal Pio Laghi, papal envoy to Washington, tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his message for U.S. President George W. Bush (March 5)
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In his Ash Wednesday address, Pope John Paul II called on Catholics worldwide to lend him a hand preventing war in Iraq. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (March 5)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Vatican envoy who met with President Bush Wednesday said he "clearly and forcefully" conveyed a message from Pope John Paul II that a war against Iraq would be a "disaster."

"You might start, and you don't know how to end it," said Cardinal Pio Laghi said after his half-hour meeting at the White House. "It will be a war that will destroy human life. Those people that are suffering already in Iraq, they will be in a really bad situation."

Laghi, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States and a friend of the Bush family, said the president -- "a man of great belief" -- expressed his own views on the Iraq crisis during the meeting. But the Vatican envoy said Bush, a Methodist, did not try to present a religious case in support of military action.

"He did not try to be a pastor or shepherd or preach the Gospel. I tried to preach the Gospel," Laghi said.

Laghi also said he gave Bush the Vatican's view that the United States should not act against Iraq without the sanction of the United Nations.

"It will be an American-Iraqi war, and that is not the way to do it because the government of the United States has appealed to the United Nations," he said. "Let's wait for the United Nations, whether they would give a green light in one way or the other."

Pope seeks prayers for peace

A senior administration official said Bush told Laghi that war with Iraq would be "a last option" but that "a disarmed Iraq would leave the world safer."

The president had a "good discussion" on Iraq and other issues, including cloning and "the respect of human life," the official said.

Laghi gave Bush a letter from the pope. The senior administration official declined to disclose its contents.

At the Vatican Wednesday, the pope called on the faithful of all religions to pray for peace on Ash Wednesday, the traditional day of fasting at the beginning of the 40-day Lenten period of penitence for Christians.

"As we begin our Lenten journey this year, we cannot ignore the tense international situation," he said. "There must be, on everyone's part, an aware acceptance of responsibilities and a common effort to avoid another dramatic conflict for mankind. ...

"For this reason I wished for Ash Wednesday to be a day of prayer and fasting to implore peace in the world. ... We must pray and fast for peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations," he added. (Full story)

Later in the day, when he delivered his Ash Wednesday homily, he referred to "threats of war that are facing the world right now" as he called on the faithful to pray and fast.

In his efforts to avert a war, the pope has met with three of Bush's chief supporters, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

He also sent Cardinal Roger Etchegaray to Baghdad for a meeting with top Iraqi officials, including President Saddam Hussein.

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