The call came from the countryâ€™s most senior Christian leader, the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel Karim-Delly. He made the appeal at the Vatican as he was preparing to be inducted as Iraqâ€™s first Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.
He told reporters that his elevation to cardinal was an â€˜honour for all Iraqis, and not just Christians.â€™
He added that he would use his new position “to convince those who have left Iraq to return and help build the country.”
Since the allied action in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen dramatically. It is estimated that there are now just 600,000 Chaldean Christians there, compared with 1.2 million prior to 2003.
The Patriarch told reporters that Pope Benedict had said to him: ” I hope that this gesture will be a sign of reconciliation … especially among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians, because Iraq is a country dear to me.”
In the past the Patriarch has warned that there was a danger that the Middle East could end up with no Christian communities there as many are leaving in the wake of violence.