Iraqi Tells Pope That Christians Will Be Defended

Foreign Minister Meets in Wave of Attacks on Churches

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 13, 2004 ( Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told John Paul II that his government is committed to defending the Mideast nation’s Christians, targets of terrorist attacks in recent months.

Zebari met the Pope today in audience and afterward conferred with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, according to Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls.

«In the course of the conversations a review was made of the situation in Iraq and the Middle East in general,» the director of the Vatican press office said in a statement.

The foreign minister «thanked His Holiness and his aides for the help they have always given to Iraq and confirmed his government’s commitment to promote religious freedom and, in particular, the defense of Christian communities,» Navarro Valls stated.

«In the discussion with the minister the painful plague of terrorism was deplored once again, hoping for a speedy return to respect for moral values which are the basis of all civilizations,» the spokesman’s statement concluded.

Two attacks in Mosul on Dec. 7 destroyed an Armenian Catholic church in Mosul and the Chaldean bishop’s palace.

They were the latest of a series of attacks against churches, which began in early August, when four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were hit, killing 11 people and wounding dozens. Attacks against stores owned by Christians had started earlier.

Christians in Iraq number about 800,000, or 3% of the population. Chaldean-rite Catholics account for 70% of the Christians.

Zebari’s visit to the Vatican came weeks after the Pope’s meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Nov. 4.

In that meeting, John Paul II condemned the present «senseless violence» and encouraged the establishment of democracy in Iraq.

On Nov. 15, the Holy Father received the letters of credence of Albert Edward Ishmael Yelda, the new ambassador of Iraq to the Holy See.

Through him, the Pontiff appealed to the Iraqi government to recognize «the right to freedom of worship and religious teaching,» and assured him of the Catholic Church’s collaboration and, in particular, of Chaldean Catholics, to «build a more peaceful and stable nation.»

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