Bishops' Low Week meeting focuses on Middle East, asylum seekers

 Justice and Peace issues at home and abroad were the main subjects considered at the Bishops' Conference Low Week meeting. A a press conference in Archbishops' House yesterday, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Monsignor Andrew Summersgill and Fr Frank Turner issued two statements: 'Iraq and Regional Peace' and 'Towards a Fair and Efficient Asylum System' (See full text of both documents in today's news). Archbishop Kelly said the bishops had prayed for all who had suffered in the war in Iraq, and were concerned that law and order should be returned quickly. They said they believed it was essential for the UN to have a central role in the reconstruction of the country. The bishops' document expresses serious concern at the long-term impact of weapons such as cluster bombs and those with depleted uranium. They said that those who used these weapons had a moral responsibility to deal with the aftermath of their use. Asked about whether the bishops had reconsidered their initial opposition the war on Iraq, Archbishop Kelly said that their "anti-death" view could not change and was the same as that of the Pope, who saw each and every person as unique and precious. Archbishop Kelly said the bishops urged that any new government in Iraq respect the rights of all minority groups and faiths. Resolution of the crisis in Iraq would only be successful, he said, if a peaceful and just solution was found to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Fr Turner expressed concerns about the time scale of the 'road map' for peace in the Middle East, (issued too late to be discussed at the meeting); the rapidly declining Christian population in the Holy Land and the construction of the wall currently being built in Israel that is separating Palestinians from their land. He said: "Every step towards its completion is a step away from peace." On the home front the bishops issued an eight-point document based on international human rights law, calling for the provision of a fair, efficient and humane set of procedures for dealing with asylum seekers. The government, churches and NGOs should promote an enlightened view of the issue stressing the positive contributions refugees make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of this country, they said. The bishops said that the UK must not opt out or dilute the minimum standards set by the European Commission. They concluded that Britain and the EU should 'take effective measures to ameliorate the cause of refugees flows through policies promoting the building of stable societies in refugee producing countries. Fr Turner pointed out that it was a fundamental commandment in the Old Testament to care for widows, orphans and strangers. While provision is made for widows and orphans, he said, strangers were too often left out in the cold.

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