Australia approves 27 visas for Iraqi World Youth Day pilgrims

Rome, Italy, Jul 14, 2008 / 10:09 pm (CNA) .- Iraq’s Catholics have responded with gratitude to the decision of the Australian Embassy in Amman, Jordan to issue 27 visas that will allow some young Iraqis to participate in World Youth Day, though the number provided falls far short of the 170 which had been requested.

“Many in Iraq were waiting for this,” Father Philip Najim, Chaldean Prosecutor to the Holy See, told SIR News Agency. “It is a symbolic number of visas but our youngsters will be in Sydney too and that’s what counts.”

“I would like to thank the Australian government for everything they have been able to do and also the Australian embassy to the Holy See which has contributed to this positive ending,” Father Najim continued.

Twenty-one of the young pilgrims come from the northern Iraq city of Erbil. One of their flights is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, traveling from Erbil to Dubai to Sydney, while some are reportedly already in transit.

“We would like to show the Holy Father and the whole world our faith, heir of a millenary tradition which is still alive in our hearts,” said Father Rayan P. Atto, an escort for the trip.

Upon hearing of the news, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Vatican said, "The Pope will certainly like to hear this news." When he was asked if the Pope might meet with the Iraqi pilgrims, Fr. Lombardi said, "it's hard to say” and that the Holy Father could request such a meeting.