Pope receives al-Maliki, both hope dialogue will prevail over terrorism and violence
Iraq’s prime minister invites Benedict XVI to visit the country. During the talks the two leaders discussed the fate of refugees and religious minorities. They also examined the situation of the Middle East, expressing hope that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel Al-Maliki and Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo took place in a cordial atmosphere. The discussion revolved around the situation of Iraq’s refugees and Christian community and the hope for peace. Violence was condemned in no uncertain terms. Prime Minister Maliki also invited the Holy Father to visit the Middle Eastern country.

A Vatican press release said that the situation in Iraq was examined “taking into account the regional context.”

“Special attention was given to the many Iraqi refugees, both within and outside the country, who need assistance, also in view of a much hoped for return,” the communiqué said.

Both men “condemned the violence that strikes the various parts of the country every day, without sparing Christian communities, who strongly feel the need for greater security.”

During the talks the Iraqi leader also met the Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone and the Secretary for Relations with States, Mgr Dominique Mamberti. Both “parties expressed their hope that Iraq will finally find the path towards peace and development” and that this will be done “through dialogue and cooperation among its ethnic and religious groups, including its minorities,” hoping that the former “can effect the moral and civil reconstruction of the country, fully respecting each other’s identity in a spirit of reconciliation and search for the common good. The importance of inter-faith dialogue was also stressed as a way to achieve religious understanding and civil coexistence. The prime minister also invited the Holy Father to visit Iraq.”

Al-Maliki, said the director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi, was accompanied by seven people, including the foreign and industry ministers.

The audience with the Pope took place only in the presence of the Vatican interpreter.

The Iraqi Prime Minister gave Benedict XVI a 30-centimetre-long metal sculpture of a palm. In return the Pope gave the Iraqi leader a decorated pen.