John Paul II Encourages Democracy in Iraq

Urges Rights for Minorities, When Meeting Iraqi Prime Minister

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2004 ( John Paul II condemned the present «senseless violence» in Iraq and encouraged the establishment of democracy in the country, when he received Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in audience.

During today’s meeting, the Pope called for respect of religious minorities in the country, especially Christians.

«I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to assure you of my continued closeness to the Iraqi people, so sorely tried by the tragic sufferings of recent years,» the Holy Father began by saying in his brief address to Allawi and his companions.

«I pray for all the victims of terrorism and wanton violence, for their families, and for all those who generously work for the reconstruction of your country,» the Pope added.

«I wish to encourage the efforts made by the Iraqi people to establish democratic institutions which will be truly representative and committed to defending the rights of all, in complete respect for the ethnic and religious diversity which has always been a source of enrichment for your country,» he said.

«I am confident that the Christian community, present in Iraq from apostolic times, will make its own contribution to the growth of democracy and to the building of a future of peace in the region,» John Paul II said.

Shortly before, the Pope and Iraqi representative had had a private, 10-minute meeting in the Holy Father’s library.

The prime minister introduced his entourage, which included his wife, Thana Allawi; the minister for planning and development, Mahdi Hafedh; the minister for human rights, Bikhtiar Amin; and the minister of state, Wael Al Fadel.

Subsequently, the prime minister and his aides met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, according to a statement issued after the meeting by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls.

Also present at the meeting with the secretary of state was Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states; Monsignor Pietro Parolin, undersecretary for relations with states, as well as two officials of the Secretariat of State, Monsignors Franco Coppola and Joseph Murphy.

«In these talks,» said Navarro Valls, «there were further discussions on different aspects of the situation in Iraq, prospects for pacification and reconciliation that will make possible the healing of profound wounds of the past, and the consequences for peace in the region.»

«Also analyzed was the need to ensure full religious freedom and the contribution that the Christian community can make to the moral and material reconstruction of the country,» he added.

The Vatican spokesman emphasized that «the prime minister deplored the attacks suffered by some Christian churches and assured the Pope of the government’s determination to restore them.»

During a press conference before arriving at the Vatican, Allawi appealed to governments that have not been involved in the conflict, to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction.

«I address countries that have been content to be spectators on the Iraqi question,» he said after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, «to build a better Iraq, a country determined to return to the international community and to bring the international community back to itself.»

Ayad Allawi, a Shiite, was born in 1945. He was appointed prime minister of the transition government on June 28. A neurologist and businessman, he lived abroad as a dissident.

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