Today's messages are reprinted from a Sep 28 99 letter written by Kathy Kelly, one of the coordinators of Voices in the Wilderness - a group working actively to end the economic sanctions against Iraq.

In the midst of turmoil, an Iraqi girl searches for her God.
(The young girl is shrouded in moonlight - on her knees
and possibly praying for peace.)

-from an exhibit of children's art, Basra, Iraq, September 1998

The summer Voices in the Wilderness delegations reported an across-the-board deterioration of not just the vital infrastructure elements in Iraq, but of the hope among the people that sanctions would soon be lifted. Our Iraqi hosts' and friends' open hearts continue to amaze us.

Facing grim odds and the most unusual circumstances, they remain resolute in their passion, hospitality, and kindness. We are often reminded that in Iraq it is not just the poor, young, ill, and elderly who suffer, but those persons whose lives are changed in even the smallest of ways. Teachers with no salaries, classrooms with no desks or chairs, doctors lacking texts, kids missing toys, schools without computers, taxi drivers with shattered windows, and teenagers with no social outlets.

To remain optimistic despite the facts is possible only because of the love we share and receive in Iraq - people-to-people connections that transcend international disputes and rivalries. The State Department reiterates that Iraq's past deeds ensure that sanctions will remain in perpetuity unless its leadership is changed. As the US government continues to hold Iraq to standards that the US government itself cannot possibly uphold, we sadly wonder:

If we cannot forgive Iraq for any past mistakes, who will ever forgive us?

...We eagerly await the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Iraq, anticipated to be December 2 and 3, 1999, as a time for education and compassion. In ringing condemnations of the economic sanctions, the Pope calls them both cruel and ineffective.

Despite stiff opposition by the US State Department to his visit, the Pope has renewed his desire to visit Iraq as part of his millennial pilgrimage of holy sites. While the purpose of the papal visit is indeed religious (and apolitical), we are hopeful that his presence in Iraq can help foster dialogue and bring to an end ten years of international indifference towards human suffering in Iraq.