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SODANO-SUMMIT (SECOND UPDATE) Jul-26-2006 (730 words) With photos. xxxi

On eve of summit, pope says prayers for Mideast might be working

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On the eve of the Rome international summit for peace in the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI said it appeared that perhaps prayers for peace were starting to work.

"It seems to me that today something is beginning to move, which shows that prayers are not useless," the pope told reporters in northern Italy July 25 as he returned to the chalet in Les Combes where he has been vacationing.

"Let us strongly pray that tomorrow's conference will bear fruit and bring concrete results for peace," the pope said. "I hope they find stable and lasting solutions" to the violence that has ignited in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister, and two officials from his staff represented the Vatican at the July 26 summit.

U.S., European and Arab officials at the meeting did not agree on an immediate plan to stop the fighting between Israel and the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although the leaders called for an end to the violence, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said any cease-fire must be part of a plan that would make it sustainable. The leaders also agreed on the need for international troops, under the auspices of the United Nations, in southern Lebanon.

The violence began in mid-July, and by July 26 it had killed more than 420 Lebanese, mostly civilians, at least 50 Israelis and at least 12 U.N. personnel. More than 750,000 people were displaced from their homes.

While the Vatican sent official observers to the summit, it also planned to continue working behind the scenes in pushing for a peaceful solution to ongoing violence in the region, said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.

Before Vatican participation was announced, Cardinal Sodano told Italian state television that the Vatican would be following the summit's progress with "great attention."

"The Holy See tries to be 'super partes' (above all parties); it has a universal mission to unite all of humanity," the cardinal said in the July 24 interview with RAI television.

His remarks echoed Pope Benedict's July 21 comments that the Vatican tends to leave diplomatic bargaining to other nations "because we do not get involved in politics even if we do everything for peace."

However, the Vatican supports everything that can facilitate and lead to peace, the pope had said.

Because modern civilization calls for dialogue, not war, to resolve disputes, every day the Vatican has been contacting foreign diplomats in an effort to foster a peaceful resolution, Cardinal Sodano said.

"There has been intense effort contacting the chanceries of many of the countries" involved in or concerned about resolving the Mideast violence, he said.

Cardinal Sodano said the Vatican has been emphasizing Pope Benedict's concerns and wishes for an immediate cease-fire and a humanitarian corridor in the area of conflict so as to get needed aid into the region.

The Vatican will continue to maintain contact "with various governments of the world in order to make its contribution so that this tragedy may end as soon as possible," he said.

In a separate interview with Italy's leading Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Sodano countered criticism that the Vatican was not understanding enough of Israel's reasons to bomb what it says are Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.

In the magazine's July 30 issue, released July 25, Cardinal Sodano said that over the last century the Vatican has always held fast to "reasons of peace" which will often "displease one or the other side of belligerent parties."

The church's calls for nonviolence will always carry the risk of being criticized, misunderstood, or accused of taking sides, he said, "but this is the price one must pay in order to contribute to the establishment of peace."

Church teaching says that, if there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the world level to resolve the danger of war, nations cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful resolution has been exhausted, he said.

However, even in cases of legitimate self-defense, innocent civilians must not be caught up in the fighting, and basic humanitarian laws "must never be violated," he said in the magazine interview.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz.


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