The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, offers guidance as war against Iraq finally breaks out...

THE news that the armed forces of the United States of America have launched a military strike against Iraq is both grave and disturbing.

After all, the demonstrations throughout the world, and not least here in the United Kingdom and in York itself, have been a sign that many people, people of all ages, have not been convinced that war was either necessary or inevitable.

Whatever our particular and personal views about the rights or wrongs of this military action, the resort to war is always a sign of failure on the part of the international community.

On first hearing the news, my thoughts were immediately with the members of our armed forces now engaged in this military action - who, whatever their personal views, will, I am sure, acquit themselves with thorough professionalism. My prayers are for their well-being and their safety - many of whom are from our own region here in North Yorkshire - and for their families, relations and friends at home. They will need the support and care of us all.

I think, too, of the support teams, the supply lines, the doctors and nurses as well as the chaplains and so many others involved in such an operation.

The weaponry these days is described as "technological" and "smart". Yet as already we have seen in previous recent military engagements, even the smartest of weaponry can and does at times go wrong with disastrous consequences for innocent people.

Everything needs to be done therefore to minimise harm and risk to the long-suffering people of Iraq - the many innocent civilians.

During the course of the debate on Iraq at the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, one member drew our attention to the possible plight of refugees - fleeing from the terror of war. The aid agencies are doing all they can to ensure that they have the necessary resources in place, which is always difficult both to predict and to effect.

Therefore one of the ways we can certainly help at the present time is by contributing to the calls by aid agencies - already there on the ground seeking to alleviate all manner of need.

Even now when already military action has been taken, there is the need for sustained and urgent diplomatic and political action to ensure as swift and just an end to the war as possible.

This must be the clear priority now - the swift cessation of hostilities and the putting in place of such measures as will ensure a lasting justice and peace for Iraq and its people.

Thanks to the modern media, we can now follow the twists and turns of world events almost as they happen. The "war" - as it is described - will be much on our television screens, on the radio and in the newspapers. It will also be, I suspect, much in our thoughts and in our hearts.

Even though this conflict is happening hundreds of miles away, it is impossible not to be caught up in it - while, of course, recognising that people will continue to have very differing points of view about it.

What cannot, however, be in any doubt even now on the part of all of us whatever our particular point of view, is that we desire and long for a world where the safety, harmony and well-being of all is possible - where "nation shall speak peace unto nation". Where as the Prophet Isaiah so eloquently puts it "nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more".

For the present, we need to pray - all of us fervently - for a swift end to what today has begun, with minimum collateral damage to people and places, for God's wisdom and guidance for the political leaders involved, and for each and every one of us God's mercy and God's grace in our hearts and lives day by day.

Updated: 10:09 Thursday, March 20, 2003