For Iraq, Pope Urges "a State Ruled by Law"

Receives New Ambassador in Audience

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2004 ( Addressing Iraq’s new ambassador to the Vatican, John Paul II said that democracy is possible only in a state «ruled by law» and respectful of religious freedom.

The Pope, when receiving the letters of credence of Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, expressed the hope that the nation’s forthcoming elections, planned for January, will be «fair and transparent.»

The ambassador of the Iraqi interim government had arrived in Rome in recent weeks to assist with the Nov. 4 visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to the Pope. Until 2003, Yelda lived in London and offered legal assistance to Iraqi immigrants.

In his address delivered in English today to Baghdad’s new representative, John Paul II explained that «authentic democracy is possible only in a state ruled by law.»

«Essential to this is the rule of law as an integral element of government. Preserving this fundamental principle is basic for any modern society that truly seeks to safeguard and promote the common good,» he said.

«In fulfilling this task, the clear distinction between the civil and religious spheres allows each of these to exercise its proper responsibilities effectively, with mutual respect and in complete freedom of conscience,» the Holy Father indicated.

«It is my hope that the Iraqi people will continue to promote their long tradition of tolerance, always recognizing the right to freedom of worship and religious instruction,» the Pope said.

He told the new ambassador that the Church, especially Chaldean Catholics, would collaborate «in constructing a more peaceful and stable nation.»

«As you prepare your people to undertake the task of freely electing the men and women who will lead the Iraq of tomorrow, I encourage the current government in its efforts to make certain that these elections are fair and transparent giving all eligible citizens an equal opportunity in this democratic right which they are encouraged to exercise,» the Pope said.

Regarding «the challenges brought about by poverty, unemployment and violence,» the Pontiff appealed to the government of Baghdad to «work untiringly to settle disputes and conflicts through dialogue and negotiation, having recourse to military force only as a last resort.»

There are 800,000 Christians in Iraq, about 3% of the population, divided primarily between Catholics and Orthodox.

In recent months, Christian churches and shops owned by Christians have been the target of terrorist attacks. Two churches were attacked Nov. 8, leaving three people dead and 45 wounded.

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