Chaldean church must be voice of moderation in Iraq, says pope

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Despite the dangers and difficulties Iraqi Christians are facing, the Chaldean Catholic Church must take an active role in bringing peace and harmony to Iraq by being a voice of moderation, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Christians have been present in Iraq for thousands of years and as Iraqi citizens they should be guaranteed full and equal rights with no distinctions made because of religion, he added.

Chaldean bishops from Iraq, the United States and Australia met the pope Jan. 24 at the end of their “ad limina” visits to report on the status of their dioceses. The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches.

Paying homage to churchmen killed in Iraq in the past two years, the bishops presented the pope with a cope that belonged to Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, and a stole used by Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni. Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped and found dead in 2008, while Father Ganni and three subdeacons were shot by militants outside a church in Mosul in 2007.

The pope received the gifts “with emotion” and recalled the many victims of violence in Iraq.

He appealed for an end to the bloodshed there, saying he hoped all men and women of good will would work together to bring peace so all Iraqis could live in safety and harmony with one another.

By maintaining cordial relations with members of other religious and ethnic communities in Iraq, the Chaldean church “is called to carry out a fundamental role of moderation with a view to building a new society in which everyone may life in harmony and reciprocal respect,” he said.

The pope said relations between Christians and Muslims have been “uncertain” at times, but “Christians who have always lived in Iraq are full-fledged citizens with the same rights and duties as everyone without distinction of religion.”

He encouraged the bishops’ efforts to foster understanding and harmony between peoples and praised the active role they have always played in enriching life in Iraq.

“Today the Chaldean church, which has an important place among the different communities of (Iraq), must continue this mission in the service of the human and spiritual development” of their fellow citizens, he said.

In order to do this, he said, the church must help the faithful, especially young people, attain “a high level of culture” by receiving a good education in many different fields of religious and secular knowledge. A broad and thorough education “is a valuable investment for the future,” he said.

Pope Benedict highlighted the immense courage and perseverance of Iraqi Catholics who have to face threats, insecurity and violence every day.

He urged the bishops to “to support the faithful in overcoming their present difficulties and strengthening their presence by appealing in particular to authorities responsible for the recognition of their human and civil rights.”