Pope invited to Iraq: Jordan envoy

aleqm5jlau.jpgAMMAN (AFP) — Iraqi leaders have invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit Baghdad, his envoy to Jordan said on Sunday, as the pontiff confirmed he will visit the Middle East in May.

“One thing I can tell you about the visit to Baghdad is that both President (Jalal) Talabani and the Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki have personally invited the Holy Father to visit Iraq,” the apostolic nuncio to Jordan, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat, said.

“So the invitation is there, but we don’t know exactly when that would happen, and the Holy Father eventually will give consideration to that,” he told an Amman news conference.

“We can only hope and pray it will happen.”

Pope Benedict told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for weekly prayers on Sunday that he will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan from May 8 to 15.

He said he would use the visit — his first to the region — to pray “for the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and for all of humanity.”

On the Jordan leg of the tour, he is expected to meet leaders of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church.

The church is Iraq’s largest Christian denomination and includes among its followers former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz who remains in US custody awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity.