Pope Benedict prays for Christians persecuted in Iraq, calls for religious freedom

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Pope Benedict XVI prayed for Christians suffering from persecution and discrimination throughout the world, especially those in Iraq, during the Angelus on Nov. 21.

The Italian bishops invited the faithful to a day of prayer for the persecuted and for their persecutors after the Oct. 31 massacre of dozens of Iraqi Christians celebrating Mass in a Baghdad cathedral. Violence continues to be directed against the country's Christian minorities.

The day of prayer was promoted as a sign of closeness and solidarity to Iraqi Christians and all those persecuted for their faith.

"I join this choral invocation to the God of life and peace, so that in every part of the world religious freedom might be assured to all," said Pope Benedict. He expressed closeness to those in Iraq "for the great testimony of faith that they render to God."

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his concern for Iraqi Christians on other occasions, especially recently when he called the violence "absurd."

It is an important theme in the Church today. Cardinals who are in Rome for the consistory to welcome their 24 newest members discussed religious freedom during closed-door meetings on Nov. 19.

An estimated 60,000 people were present for the Angelus prayer, which closely followed a Mass to celebrate the reception of the newest cardinals. Each received a ring as a sign of the dignity of the cardinal, a reminder of his commitment to spreading the word of God and of his communion with the Successor of Peter, the Pope.

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