VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2003 ( John Paul II appealed to Iraqi Catholics to work in harmony with other believers to build a "stable and free" society.

The Pope explained this need when he received members of the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church, who were in the Vatican to elect a new patriarch.

"Harmony is exceedingly necessary, as one contemplates your land, today in greater need than ever of peace and tranquility in order," the Pope said during the meeting Wednesday with the synod, composed of 22 bishops.

"Work to join forces with all believers in respectful dialogue, which will favor the construction of a stable and free society at all levels," he said.

Ur of the Chaldeans, Abraham's land, is in Iraq. It is the geographic origin of the Chaldean Church. According to tradition, the evangelization of those lands goes back to the preaching of the Apostle St. Thomas.

"Participating in the vital sap that emanates from Christ, [the Chaldean Church] must continue to flower, faithful to her own identity, giving abundant fruits for the good of the whole ecclesial body," John Paul II added.

To attain the "full development of ecclesial life," the Chaldean bishops must have "unity of aims," the Pope reminded them.

Earlier, in a letter to the Pope, the new patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly, requested "ecclesial communion" and promised his Church's fidelity to Rome, stating: "With the help of God, I shall seek to do what is possible for the unity of the Church in this tragic situation in which the Middle East finds itself and, in particular, Iraq."

The vast majority of Iraq's 24.5 million inhabitants are Muslims. Only 3% of Iraqis are Christians.