11/03/2004, 00.00
vatican - iraq
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A papal audience and encouragement for Allawi at the Vatican tomorrow

"The Allawi government needs to be helped".  This is what Angelo Cardinal Sodano said little more than a month ago, on September 22.  These words will be the backdrop for tomorrow's meeting between the president of Iraq's interim government and John Paul II.  The Pope, who had been a reference point for the peace front worldwide and who, with the help of Vatican diplomacy, did everything in his power to avert the outbreak of war, is now openly in favour of reconciliation and reconstruction in Iraq.  This position will set the tone for tomorrow's audience, which should have positive fallout for Allawi at the international level, even though it could also prompt new proclamation from terrorists. 

The Pope has always called for multilateral action, with significant UN participation, in international affairs, including the Iraq question, and an end to unilateralism.  In meeting U.S. president George W. Bush last June 4, he referred to the need to normalize, with "active participation" of the UN, the situation in the Middle East, with a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in the wake of the "encouraging step" of the formation of an interim Iraqi government, and the prospect of new negotiations in the Holy Land.

Again the Pope, in a broad statement coloured by considerable concern, said on September 18  that "whether in Iraq, where the return to civil peace seems so difficult to establish; or in the Holy Land, disfigured by an endless conflict that is fuelled by hatred and reciprocal desires for vengeance; or in other countries martyred by terrorism that strikes the innocent so cruelly; violence reveals its horror everywhere and shows itself incapable of resolving conflicts; it produces nothing good, but only hatred, destruction and death".  He appealed once again to the leaders of the international community "to foster a return to reason and negotiation, the only possible way out of conflicts among men, as all peoples have the right to live in serenity and peace".

On the heals of the Pope's basic indications came remarks by Cardinal Sodano and subsequently the Holy See's "foreign minister", Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo.  Without moving the Vatican's opposition to the war by an inch, Cardinal Sodano compared, on September 22, the new Iraqi government to a newborn that, even if illegitimate, needs help to survive.  "We must roll up our sleeves," he explained, "and help that nation to find peace and reconciliation, remembering what the Pope often says: 'There can be no peace without pardon' ".  Monsignor Lajolo stressed the same concept a week later when, speaking at the UN General Assembly, he said it was imperative "to support the current government" of Premier Allawi, in order to tow Iraq along toward normality and an essentially democratic political system.

If this is the "political" line of Vatican diplomacy, John Paul II looks to Iraq and the Middle East as a whole with concern for the suffering of the general public and the very survival of Christians in the region.  His latest statement came a week ago.  At the end of Wednesday's general audience, the Pope launched a new appeal on behalf of the suffering population, hostages and their relatives, and for conditions that allow Christians to stay in their homeland, an appeal against the "blind barbarity of terrorism".  "My prayers go out everyday to the dear Iraqi people", he said, "who are working so hard to rebuild the institutional structures of their county".  "At the same time," he added, "I urge Christians to continue in their generosity and to do their part, which is essential, for the reconciliation of hearts". (FP)
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See also
Pope is close to those who are working for the good of the country, Catholic Patriarch says
Pope to meet with Iraqi prime minister at Vatican
Patriarch in Baghdad: "The Pope has always loved this land".
Elections will improve things, Mosul priest says
Bishop of Kirkuk: "Terrorists are resisting against development of democratic Iraq"


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