12/28/2006, 00.00
IRAN – VATICAN
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Ahmadinejad, “Christmas miracles” and the letter to the Pope

by Dariush Mirzai
With the embargo in mind, Iran’s president launches a charm offensive towards Christians. In his Christmas message he even exalted the eschatological return of Jesus and acknowledged the value of the Christian community in Iran.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – The content of a letter Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad solemnly sent yesterday to the Pope has not yet been revealed, but what is known is that it was Iran’s Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki who personally travelled to Rome to deliver the missive bypassing the Vatican Nunciature in Tehran.

A spokesman for the Iranian president stated yesterday in the Iranian capital that Ahmadinejad’s letter was “non political”, that it focused on the “shared teachings of the prophets” and the need for “close collaboration” between the religions against unjust relations that exist in the world.

Recently, the focus on Christian-Muslim cooperation was made clear in the Iranian president’s Christmas message, which in itself was almost a “Christmas miracle” in the country considered to be the “land of the Magi”.

As his style, Ahmadinejad spoke about Jesus Christ as “a divine prophet” and of the “Holy Mary” as “a great model for women”.

Surprisingly for a Shia who is still waiting for the reappearance of the 12th imam, he expressed eschatological expectations about Christ whose return “will offer all the beauty and goodness to human kind”.

In his message he explicitly acknowledged the existence of a Christian community in Iran to whom he expressed his best wishes.

“In honouring the birth of the prophet of love and friendship Jesus Christ, and expressing my best wishes for the Christian New Year, I pray the God of compassion and wisdom to give everyone, especially the Christians of Iran and the world, joy, health and a year full of blessings and love,” he wrote.

It is uncommon for religious minorities in Iran to be acknowledged and greeted this way. It is likely to be part of the preparatory work for Foreign Minister Mottaki’s visit to the Vatican.

Strategically, Iran, after the United Nations security Council resolution against it, is sending various signals around the world.

It is interesting to note that this charm offensive against the Catholic Church comes in the wake of the less-than-charming offensive against Israel on the issues of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Also noteworthy is the fact that in the anti-Pope controversy caused by the latter’s Regensburg lesson, Ahmadinejad like his predecessor Khatami spoke out saying that there was nothing unduly offensive in the speech and calling for moderation and rationality on the part of Muslims.

The letter sent to the Pope is the latest missive Ahmadinejad wrote; it is modelled after those Muhammad wrote in his own times.

In May he sent a letter to US President George W. Bush via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.

In June he had messages delivered through Iran’s embassies to French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

 

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