Vatican-Iran Relations Assessed

Congress Marks a Half-Century Milestone

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ROME, FEB. 13, 2004 ( The Holy See maintains relations with Iran to promote good relations between believers and cultures and to defend the rights of Catholics who live there, says a Vatican official.

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, made that point Thursday in a public ceremony at the Gregorian University to mark a half-century of diplomatic relations between Iran and the Holy See.

Attendees included Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who had a private audience with John Paul II that day.

At the start of the meeting at the Gregorian, a message of greeting that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami sent to the Pope was read.

Kharrazi said, emphasizing the importance of dialogue between believers, said: “The political and cultural institutions that make up the international community, tired of relations based on confrontation and violence, have greater need than ever of dialogue, tolerance and peace: necessary aspects to address world and regional crises.”

In turn, Archbishop Lajolo read a message of greeting from the Pope to President Khatami, which stressed that the objective of all international relations is the affirmation of man’s inalienable rights: justice, freedom, solidarity, social and cultural progress, and peace.

“International cooperation must progress on the path of nuclear nonproliferation and the struggle against terrorism,” said the papal message which was summarized on Vatican Radio.

At the end of the meeting, Archbishop Lajolo told Vatican Radio that the “Holy See looks with attention at Iran, both because of its presence in the international context — a very important presence — as well as the little community of Catholics living in the country.”

“They are about 10,000 faithful in a population of 80 million inhabitants, almost all of the Islamic religion,” he said. “The Holy See is ready to defend and watch over its freedom of conscience, of faith, of religion, lived both individually as well as in community.”

“On the Iranian side, we are assured that there is full freedom of conscience for Catholics and also of worship,” the archbishop reported.

“We have questions that remain to be resolved … [referring] above all, to freedom of worship, to freedom of organization, and to the granting of entry visas for religious coming from outside, whose presence is necessary for the small number of Catholics of Iran,” he said.

“We then have problems that affect the schools, which at the beginning of the ’80s were expropriated from the Catholic institutions that directed them,” Archbishop Lajolo continued.

“Our relations with Iran,” he added, “are, in any case, relations animated by mutual good will of understanding and ever greater concord.”

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