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JPII asked Thatcher to stop Falklands War

Newly revealed documents have revealed Pope John Paul II tried to convince Margaret Thatcher to abandon the Falkland Islands during Britain’s war with Argentina.

The late Pope made the private plea on the eve of his visit to the United Kingdom, the first by a reigning Pontiff.

He suggested that a military defeat for Argentina would mean the toppling of its right-wing military dictatorship in favour of a left-wing government, which would allow the Soviet Union more dominance in the region.

However a top-secret memorandum, uncovered after 32 years and just before Blessed John Paul II’s Canonisation, said Mrs Thatcher rebuffed the Pope’s request stating that: ‘while war was a terrible evil, there were worse things including the extinction of all that one believed in’ and suggesting any deal would also have consequences for the people of Gibraltar.

The Downing Street memorandum reveals how the Pope, who will be made a saint next Sunday, sent his secretary of state, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, to pay a visit to Mrs Thatcher on the eve of his arrival to Britain on May 28 1982.

The meeting, noted the confidential note, was held without members of the cabinet and treated as ‘private.’ Just hours before, 500 British troops from the Parachute Regiment, took part in the first major land battle of the two-month conflict.

Three other vessels, HMS Antelope, HMS Coventry and the container ship Atlantic Conveyer had also been sunk on May 23 and 25, with the loss of 32 lives and scores wounded.

The four-page letter, written by her private personal secretary (PPS) Sir Clive Whitmore to Sir Brian Fall, PPS to Foreign Secretary Francis Pym, said that the meeting ‘lasted 50 minutes and was devoted, at the Cardinal’s initiative, very largely to the Falkland’s War.’

“Cardinal Casaroli said that the Pope had asked him to express some thoughts about the Falklands crisis,” Sir Clive wrote. “The Holy Father’s… fear is that a situation like this could have very serious and dangerous consequences of a more general kind.”

The Pope, explained Cardinal Casaroli, saw the Western world as ‘not just a political entity but even more as an ideological entity’ and feared ‘the Soviet Union would take advantage of the situation and create a gap between Latin America and the West.’

While the ‘honour of the country, the security of the Falkland Islanders and respect for international law were all valuable principles,’ the Pope wondered whether Mrs Thatcher was being motivated by ‘other principles’ such as the Islands’ strategic location in securing a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Surely, the cardinal went on, it would be preferable to have better relations with Latin America and the Argentine?

Mrs Thatcher responded by saying that Britain had not wanted to send forces to the islands, but had been the victim of aggression.

“The Falkland Islands were British territory in law and the Islanders were British people. Some of them went back seven generations,” she said. “They were a hard working and God-fearing people. They led a life of their own choosing… (and) their peace had been shattered. We could not bargain away the freedom, justice and democracy which the Falkland Islands had enjoyed to the Argentine where these things were unknown.”

Similarly, she added, “Gibraltar was British and its people would remain British.”

And she said that independence for the islanders would be theirs one day, adding ‘The United Kingdom is not a colonial power. No other country has freely brought so many colonies to independence.’

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