Pope: Iraq’s Christians Full Citizens

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(24 Jan 09 – RV) Pope Benedict appealed to Iraqi authorities to defend the civil rights of Christians in Iraq. Saturday, asking them to protect the Christian community there from relentless violence.

The bishops from the Chaldean Catholic Church, born in Iraq almost two thousand years ago gathered around their Pope Saturday, presenting him with the stole that belonged to Fr. Ragheed Ganni, murdered together with three deacons in the city of Mosul on March 13th 2008 as he emerged from saying mass, and the chasuble of Archbishop Paolus Faraj Rahoo, also of Mosul found dead in abandoned land 14 days after he was abducted from his diocese and his people.

Two gifts that greatly move the Pope, who said they showed these men’s profound love for their faith, their people and their country, even to the point of death.

His reflection on these two “martyrs” was accompanied by a renewed appeal for greater protection for Iraq’s Christian community too often the scapegoat of senseless violence and now increasingly isolated by the social majority.

“I salute their courage” he said, “their perseverance in the face of threats and trials. The witness they give is a sign of their strength and faith and of their hope”.

Pope Benedict asked the bishops to help their people to overcome current difficulties and to make their presence felt within their local communities, he appealed to the governing authorities to see that the rights of Christians are upheld, and he appealed to Iraq’s Christian men and women to love their nation.

“The Christians who live in Iraq” reaffirmed the Pope “are full citizens with the same rights and obligations as everyone, without the distinction of religion”.

He ask that the “men and women of peace in this region join together to put an end to violence and allow everyone to live in shared security and understanding”.

Finally the Pope exhorted the Iraqi bishops to greater unity, to a practise of the liturgy that follows the orientations of Vatican II and to safeguard the spiritual life of the great Iraq Diaspora.