07/02/2010, 00.00
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Pope urges Iraqis to form new government, guarantee religious freedom

In welcoming the new Iraqi ambassador who presented his Letter of Credentials today, Benedict XVI urged Iraqi leaders to form the country’s new government and guarantee security for the population, especially Christians who are leaving the country in great numbers. He also remembered some of its Christian martyrs, Mgr Paulos Faraj Rahho, archbishop of Mosul, and Fr Ragheed Ganni.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – In his address after  Iraq’s new Ambassador to the Holy See, Habbeb Mohammed Hadi Ali Al-Sadr, presented his Letter of Credentials, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the situation in that country, including its hopes for a new government, security for minorities, in particular Christians, and respect for human rights, especially religious freedom.

In a clear understanding of the situation, the Pontiff said he “hoped that the formation of a new Government will now proceed swiftly so that the will of the people for a more stable and unified Iraq may be accomplished”.

After braving terrorists and the country’s widespread insecurity, Iraqis went to the poll on 7 March to elect a new parliament. However, no majority has yet emerged and so no government has been formed. Iyad Allawi, a secular politician who heads the largest block in parliament, is still at odds with outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, over who will form the new government.

In his remarks, the Pope noted the “great courage” it took for Iraqis to participate in the elections; for this reason, he called on all responsible parties to act in response to that courage.

The Holy Father also addressed a second important issue, that of security and the place of Christians in today’s Iraq. He mentioned the violence that is causing Christians to flee, cutting the community by almost half.

After noting the important contribution Christian communities have made in the fields of education and health care, the Pope said, “Iraqi Christians need to know that it is safe for them to remain in or return to their homes, and they need assurances that their properties will be restored to them and their rights upheld.”

Benedict XVI equally urged Iraqis to respect human rights “both in law and in practice” to build a healthy Iraqi society. Indeed, he said, “Among the rights that must be fully respected if the common good is to be effectively promoted, the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of worship are paramount, since it is they that enable citizens to live in conformity with their transcendent dignity as persons made in the image of their divine Creator. I therefore hope and pray that these rights will not only be enshrined in legislation, but will come to permeate the very fabric of society.”

In referring to the upcoming Synod of Middle Eastern Bishops, which will address the issue of Christian-Muslim cooperation, the Pope said, “It is my earnest hope that Iraq will emerge from the difficult experiences of the past decade as a model of tolerance and cooperation among Muslims, Christians and others in the service of those most in need.”

Finally, the Holy Father turned to the “many tragic acts of violence committed against innocent members of the population, both Muslim and Christian,” which touched “men and women who, having chosen the courageous path of non-violent witness to higher values, have lost their lives through cowardly acts of violence.” Among them, he mentioned Mgr Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul who died in captivity after he was abducted in March 2006 (picture: the prelate’s funeral), and Fr Ragheed Ganni, a Mosul priest who was killed at the entrance of his church after Sunday Mass in June 2007.

“May their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of so many others like them, strengthen within the Iraqi people the moral determination that is necessary” to build “political structures” that can lead to “greater justice and stability.”

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