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Italians think pope deserves Nobel peace prize
( 2003-10-08 23:14) (Agencies)

Pope John Paul may or may not get the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But one thing is certain + many Italians are convinced that he should get it, and, given his health, that this may be the last chance.

Whether the pope, 83, should get the world's top peace award is a debate that is tangled up in the fact that he is at once a head of state with a political role, and a religious leader with a moral view that has had its share of critics.

The frail pope, who suffers Parkinson's disease, has made repeated appeals for peace throughout his quarter-century reign.

Returning to the theme this week during a visit to southern Italy he said the new millennium had begun "lashed by winds of war and etched by blood in so many regions of the world".

Despite his peace credentials, he has always been overlooked by the Norway Nobel Institute, but many supporters believe this should be his year because he marks his 25th anniversary in October, he opposed the Iraq war and may not be alive for long.

Underlining his frailty, the pope on Wednesday had to skip parts of his address at his weekly general audience to conserve his strength and was hard to understand when he did speak.

"He has interpreted the feeling of an immense world public opinion against war and against preventive war," said Mario Marazziti, a founding member of the Sant' Egidio peace group, which brokered the end of the Mozambique civil war in 1993.

"His appeals against war were not listened to by some world leaders but nonetheless the pope has since worked to reduce the risk of a conflict among civilisations, between the West and Islam," Marazziti told Reuters.


Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper, ran a lengthy story on Wednesday on the pope's work for peace. "It is the year of the war in Iraq. Only he stopped it from becoming a crusade," the paper said.

Stein Tonnesson, director of Oslo's International Peace Research Institute, said the pope's chances are greater than before because of his opposition to the Iraq war and his efforts to improve relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

That, he said, gave the pope a better chance now "despite his views on abortion, birth control and homosexuality".

In predominantly Lutheran Norway, the Pope is known more for his stands on human sexuality and opposition to women priests than for preaching religious reconciliation or for his role in helping end the Cold War in 1989.

However, the pope no longer has one formidable opponent on the committee that awards the prize. Norwegian Lutheran Bishop Gunnar Staalsett, who was on the committee until this year, said in 2001 - "The current Roman Catholic theology is one that favours death rather than life."

He said at the time that the Pope's opposition to the use of condoms helped spread AIDS in developing nations.

Many Catholics believe that apart from his opposition to war, the pope should get the prize for many other "non-religious" reasons, among them his appeals to rich nations to forgive third world debt and lift economic embargoes.

"The pope deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for sure," said Peter, an American tourist from Georgia visiting St Peter's Square. "Mother Teresa won it, the pope is the next on my list."

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