When United Methodist Bishop William Boyd Grove visited Rome recently, a number of Italians asked him if he thought a U.S.-led war against Iraq could be averted.
He gave the same answer to each question: "My political hope is small, my gospel hope is large."
Grove was part of a six-member delegation, sponsored by the U.S. National Council of Churches, which visited Rome Feb. 26-27 to discuss the need for a peaceful resolution to the Iraq situation. The Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy served as host. The group talked briefly with Pope John Paul II and more extensively with Vatican officials, met with Italian politicians, and gathered with the Protestant community.
For Grove, the delegation's mission - essentially to let Europeans know that many American religious leaders are opposed to war - was important. "I believe, as do many, that it is a rush to war, and that this war, if it occurs, doesn't meet the criteria of 'just war' in any sense," he said.
The bishop noted that he is not a pacifist and is not against war under all circumstances. However, he believes U.S. military action against Iraq is morally unjustified.
The pope already has spoken out against a possible war. "We didn't go to persuade the Vatican," Grove explained. "We really went to let them know how many Americans and American Christians feel."
Delegation members were given front-row seats for the pope's Feb. 26 public audience. "We were taken up to meet him and to express to him what we came to say," the bishop said. The group also handed the pope a letter from Pax Christi USA, a Catholic organization, asking him to come to New York to address the U.N. Security Council regarding his opposition to a war with Iraq.
The next day, the delegation discussed the request with Msgr. Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who said he would present the letter to the Vatican's secretary of state. Msgr. John Mutiso-Mbinda, a senior staff associate with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, also met with the group.
Grove said the delegates were "warmly received" in a meeting with Fabio Mussi, the vice president of Italy's Congress. Also present was Valdo Stini, a former member of Congress and active Waldensian churchman. The Waldensian and Methodist churches in Italy joined in a federation in 1979, although local congregations have maintained their individual identities.
In addition to meeting with Italian church leaders, the delegates participated in a worship service at a Baptist church across from the Italian Parliament, with Grove serving as preacher.
The Rome delegation was the fourth organized by the NCC to visit various European countries. Earlier delegations met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and the French foreign ministry in Paris. A fifth delegation, led by the Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and NCC chief executive, is traveling to Moscow March 3-5 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Grove's opinion, the sending of peace delegations, financed through gifts by an anonymous donor, is one of the NCC's most significant actions in recent years. "I really can't think of anything more positive that we could have done with that money right now," he said.
The bishop also noted that the pope and others have called upon Christians to make March 5 a day of prayer and fasting for peace. Grove said he plans to participate.
Other members of the Rome delegation were the Rev. Tyrone Pitts, general secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention; the Rev. Victor Makari, Office for Middle East and Europe, Presbyterian Church USA; the Rev. Eileen Lindner, National Council of Churches; the Rev. Gwynne Guidbord, Office of Ecumenicity, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles; and the Rev. Joseph Nangle, Pax Christi, Washington.
By Albert H. Lee