Papal Envoy Arrives in Baghdad; Iraqi Says Pope Would Be Welcome

Cardinal Etchegaray Carrying a Letter for Saddam

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, FEB. 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, John Paul II’s special emissary, arrived in Baghdad with a message he says is “crucial for peace.”

An Iraqi official, meanwhile, said the Pope is welcome to visit the country.

“I land as John Paul II’s messenger,” Cardinal Etchegaray told reporters when he arrived this afternoon in a U.N. plane from Jordan.

“I am the bearer of a message for President Saddam Hussein, and this is crucial for peace in Iraq,” the papal envoy said.

He plans to meet with several Iraqi leaders, celebrate Mass on Wednesday in St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church and “pray for peace.”

The content of the papal letter has not been made public. But Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls on Sunday said that its intention is to inspire “a serious reflection on the duty of effective international cooperation, based on justice and international law, for the purpose of ensuring to those peoples the supreme good of peace.”

Cardinal Etchegaray might return to Rome with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who will be received in audience by the Pope this Friday.

Spokesmen for the Franciscan monastery in Assisi, Italy, said that Aziz will visit the monastery on Saturday and pray at the tomb of St. Francis.

Meanwhile, Amir Alambari, Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, told the press that the doors of his country are open to John Paul II, who does not need an official invitation to visit the country.

On the eve of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, John Paul II wished to make a pilgrimage to Ur of the Chaldeans in Iraq, birthplace of Abraham, but the Iraqi regime did not favor that visit.

“His visit would be a blessing not only for our people, but for the cause of peace of the whole planet,” Alambari said. “An expression of solidarity at the highest level, even if the Pope did not say a single word.”

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