Pope hopes of Iraqi Christians dashed – Summary

pope_hopes_of_0405091.jpg  Baghdad – A report published in a leading Baghdad daily that Pope Benedict XVI may visit Iraq in mid-May as part of his tour of the Middle East momentarily sparked excitement among Iraq’s Christians on Monday, until the Vatican quashed the rumour. Baghdad’s al-Sabbah newspaper quoted an unnamed lawmaker as saying that the Vatican was considering a visit to Baghdad on invitation from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.But chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, speaking to reporters in Vatican City later on Monday, said the reports did “not appear serious.”

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit Jordan, Israel and the West Bank on his tour of the Middle East, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

“I don’t expect improvised (changes of plan). The schedule has already been defined,” Lombardi said.

The Pope’s visit “would let him see situation on the ground, particularly for the (Iraqi) Christian community,” al-Sabbah had quoted an unnamed Iraqi lawmaker as saying.

The newspaper has a record of predicting unscheduled visits to Iraq. Most recently, in March, al-Sabbah reported that US President Barack Obama would visit Baghdad in the beginning of April, weeks before the US president arrived in an unannounced visit.

Since the fall of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled the country, driven from their homes in part by the bloodshed that has stalked the country, and in part by specific threats and intimidation from extremist groups specifically targeting them as Christians.

Fewer than 600,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 1.2 million before the 2003 US-led invasion.

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/267328,pope-hopes-of-iraqi-christians-dashed–summary.html