Iraqi leader wants Christian refugees to return

Rome, Jul. 28, 2008 ( – During his July 25 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI (bio – news), Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki encouraged the Pope to help him convince Iraqi Christians to remain in the country– or to return, if they have already fled.

After his meeting with the Pontiff at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, the Iraqi leader told reporters that he asked the Pope “to encourage Christians who left the country to go back and be part of the social structure of Iraq again.”

The Vatican did not mention the Iraqi leader’s request in a statement released to the media after the Friday meeting. That Vatican statement did say, however, that the Pope asked for help on behalf of “the Christian communities which strongly feel the need for greater security.” Thus while the Maliki sought the Pope’s help in persuading Christians to return, the Pope stressed the need to provide greater safety for the Christians who remain in Iraq.

The number of Iraqi Christians who have fled their homeland since 2003 may be as high as 500,000, although estimates of the number of refugees vary widely. With the Christian minority suffering through a campaign of intimidation and violence, Vatican Radio estimates that one-third of the refugees leaving Iraq have been members of the Christian minority, which accounted for only 4% of the country’s population in 2003.