Christians and Muslims must unite in their shared suffering to build better Iraq, says Pope

Recognizing the democratic election of the new president in Iraq, the Holy Father hoped on Friday that the change would bring increased stability,  security and unity in the country. He encouraged all Iraqis, Christians and Muslims alike, to unite in their "shared suffering" to build "a just, moral and peaceable environment."

Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of the shared contribution while accepting the credentials of Iraq's new ambassador Mr. Habbeb Mohammed Hadi Ali Al-Sadr on Friday morning in the Vatican.

In his words to the delegate, Benedict XVI applauded the country's achievement of democratically electing new president Jalal Talabani, pointing to the "clear sign" Iraqis gave the world "that they wish to see an end to violence and that they have chosen the path of democracy."

He noted the "great courage and determination" of the people in turning out to vote and asked for the same qualities from elected officials so that a "more stable and unified Iraq" may quickly be established.

The Holy Father went on to call for the new government to give priority to the protection of "all sectors in the area" and hopedthat the country's future "will be marked by peaceful coexistence."

Citing the particular contribution of Christians to the stability of society and improvement of infrastructure in Iraq, he said that "if they are to play their full part, however, Iraqi Christians need to know that it is safe for them to remain in or return to their homes, and they need assurances that their properties will be restored to them and their rights upheld."

Ambassador Ali Al-Sadr had spoken to the Holy Father of the terrorism that plagues the country and "has never made distinction between Christianity and Islam.

"To the contrary," said the new envoy, "its aggressions and intimidations have involved all Iraqi components in the same way."

Responding to these words, Pope Benedict XVI said that through this "shared suffering," Christians and Muslims can find a "deep bond, strengthening the determination ... to work for peace and reconciliation."

He referred also to the respect for human rights and their protection in the country, praying that in particular the rights to freedom of religion and worship will "not only be enshrined in legislation, but will come to permeate the very fabric of society."

"All Iraqis have a part to play in building a just, moral and peaceable environment," he stated.

Hoping that an "impetus" for inter-religious dialogue would be provided by October's Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father concluded by emphasizing that it is his "earnest hope that Iraq will emerge from the difficult experiences of the past decade as a model of tolerance and cooperation among Muslims, Christians and others in the service of those most in need."

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