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Germany

European Church Leaders Condemn War

The leaders of Germany's two main Christian churches joined the Pope in using their Easter sermons to condemn the war in Iraq on Sunday.

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When doves cry: The Pope and religious leaders across Europe call for peace on Easter.

Manfred Kock, who leads Germany's Protestant church, on Sunday criticized United States President George W. Bush for using religious sentiments to justify hostilities. And the chairman of the German Catholic bishops, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, stressed that war was not the right way to bring about peace.

"His name (God) should never be summoned in connection with violence," Cardinal Lehmann told worshippers in a sermon at the Catholic cathedral in Mainz, referring to recent statements made by Bush that included god and war in the same breath.

Peace, beneficence and conservation, Lehmann said, are all concepts deeply intwined with God and religion. For that reason, God's name should only be summoned in initiatives that strive for peace -- but not in statements or acts justifying violence.

The Protestant church's Kock, meanwhile, had similarly sharp words, saying the justification for the war had been morally "unconvincing." Kock also called for a "dialogue with Islam."

"In the past, in light of the terrors of Sept. 11, we have repeatedly called on Muslims not to allow their religion to be abused," Kock said. "And now we're being confronted, of course, with an American president who uses religious formulations to justify the war." Kock also reminded his parish that most church leaders, including the Pope, spoke out against the war from the very beginning.

Shaken trust

The president of the Protestant church in the state of Hesse had even harsher words for the U.S. "The trust many Europeans have had in the traditional principals of freedom and democracy in the superpower U.S.A. has been deeply shaken," Peter Steinacker wrote in an Easter letter to churchgoers.

"Based on our theological criteria, there is neither justification for a preventative war or for a religious war," Steinacker continued. "We didn't succeed in stopping the war, but objections to the unjust violence have been audible."

Essen's suffrage bishop, Franz Vorrath, told worshippers that war should never be accepted as a normal political agent. And the Catholic bishop of Eichstätt reminded churchgoers that the current war in Iraq has pushed other wars, food shortages and dictatorships in a number of other countries to the back burner.

Pope: 'A tragic conflict'

Germany's religious leaders spoke as Pope John Paul II in Rome called on the U.S. to allow the Iraqis to take charge of their future. In his address from Rome to Catholics across the world, the pope also lamented other "forgotten wars," placing particular emphasis on the continuing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, the Caucasus and in Latin America.

Tens of thousands of people packed into the rain-soaked square in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome to watch the 82-year-old Pope deliver his message after presiding over Easter mass.

"May God grant that we be free from the peril of a tragic clash between cultures and religions," he said.