Bishop renews attack on Iraq conflict

ONE of the region's bishops has used his Christmas message to restate his belief that the conflict with Iraq was wrong.In the message, the Rt Rev Richard Lewis, the bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, describes 2003 as "the year of fear''.

By John Howard

ONE of the region's bishops has used his Christmas message to restate his belief that the conflict with Iraq was wrong.

In the message, the Rt Rev Richard Lewis, the bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, describes 2003 as "the year of fear''.

He said that the run up to Christmas had inevitably been dominated by the images from Iraq of


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Saddam Hussein's capture and people celebrating on the streets.

He said that for many people the fear of Saddam and his regime has been lifted and he hoped that this freedom from fear is not short lived.

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But Bishop Lewis said: "It was wrong to use such force. We have yet to see if there was real threat from weapons of mass destruction.

"You can't help feeling the motivation was much more closely related to the security of oil supplies. Why was the same treatment not meted out to any number of other brutal regimes?

"When people use force they also have to parade their victories and the good side of that with Saddam Hussein is that it has really lifted the fear from many people.

"But for many others we have really rubbed the victory in very deeply."

He added: "At the end of the day peace only comes when there is real respect for other members of humanity.

"Looking back at 2003 it seems to have been a 'year of fear'. Military action was taken against Iraq for fear that it might have weapons of mass destruction.

"Israel is building a wall around the Palestinians because of its fear of suicide bombers. Fear produces a mixture of reactions. The weak hide away for safety while the strong are tempted to put their trust in their strength and to rid themselves of their fear by greater and greater use of force.

"The first Christmas was exactly the same. The Israeli people were afraid of the Roman invaders. The Romans were afraid of an Israeli uprising and used military force to prevent it happening, killing a huge number of innocent children in the process.

"It was argued, then as it is now, that the use of force even at the expense of many innocent lives, would eventually ensure "peace" and freedom from fear.

"The birth of Christ is a salutary reminder that human beings make the same mistake in every generation. True peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice and mutual respect.

"The good news of the first Christmas is that even the most brutal repression by the Romans could not prevent the saviour of the world arriving safely and on time. By the same token, smart bombs, suicide bombers and concrete walls cannot and will not of themselves ensure peace.

"Perhaps the message of this Christmas is that the Spirit of God in humanity is stronger than any weapon of destruction, and it alone can bring freedom from fear.''

Bishop Lewis also felt that it had been a year of fear at home too, for those who have retired and are worried about their futures, with financial instability still felt in the wake of the terrorist attacks in America on 9/11.

He said: " Older people have put money aside through endowments and found they are not producing the results they had hoped for. Pensioners have fears for the future with the financial situation after 9/11.''

Bishop Lewis's earnest hope for next year is that Iraq now develops self-government, that there is a reasonable peaceful withdrawal of coalition forces and a stable democratic government is put in place.

n The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, was "reintroduced" in the Lords yesterday , following his appointment as Bishop of Chelmsford. His sponsor peers were the Bishops of St Albans and of Southwark.

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