As Lt. Col. Oliver L. North proudly detailed his role in the diversion of U.S. funds to Nicaragua's contras, religious activists demonstrating across from the Capitol displayed tons of private aid bound for Nicaragua's peasants.

In the sweltering Washington heat they loaded a 20-foot cargo container dubbed the "Ollie North Reparations Shipment" with clothing and other humanitarian supplies to counter what they called the destructive aid sent by North to the U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua.

"The real scandal in this town is not traveler's checks, snow tires and security gates," said Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Detroit Catholic archdiocese, alluding to questioning of North during the Iran-contra hearings.

Gumbleton, speaking at a news conference last week on the lawn of a Methodist-owned building across from the Capitol, added: "The real scandal in the contra war is not the way the contra war has been run. It is the contra war itself."

The Quest for Peace, a religious group based in Mount Rainier that opposes U.S. aid to the contras, staged the event during a lunch break in North's testimony last week.

At the end of the news conference, members of the group packed medical supplies, baseball bats and mitts, toys and other supplies into the cargo container, which departed for Nicaragua soon afterward.

"We appreciate that Oliver North feared for the life of his daughter," said the Rev. William Callahan, Quest for Peace coordinator and Jesuit priest. North testified that terrorists posed a danger to his family.

"We fear constantly for the children we know in Nicaragua who are killed every day because of the policies he espouses," the priest said.

In the past year, according to Quest for Peace, the group has sent 220 containers, each filled with nearly 10 tons of aid, to church and private humanitarian groups in Nicaragua that distribute it to peasants in the civil war-torn country.

The Quest for Peace also keeps a tally of in-kind Nicaragua aid sent by other U.S. activist groups that take part in its project. The group celebrated reaching the $50 million mark -- halfway to its goal of channelling $100 million worth of "true humanitarian aid to the people of Nicaragua."

The figure is intended to match the $100 million given by Congress to the Nicaraguan resistance last year.

The religious activists, who make available to the public all their financial records, said the $50 million worth of aid already shipped to Nicaragua makes the campaign one of the largest sources of foreign aid to the country.

"And we don't need a shredder to clean up the program. We don't need to lie about what we are doing. We don't fear to show the Congress or the American people what we are doing," declared Callahan. "We are patriotic Americans, we are a religious people, acting out our highest democratic and religious ideals."

Of the "Ollie North Reparations Shipment," Bishop Gumbleton added: "The aid in this truck -- or even $50 million in aid -- can't begin to repair the brutality and terrorism caused by the policies that Oliver North, Ronald Reagan and others have funded or directed.

"Nicaragua is not our enemy. We want normalized relations and a whole new approach to Central America policy based on peace, sharing and self-determination."