Pope challenges leaders on "pitiless" Iraq violence

In a speech marking the end of Ramadan, Pope Benedict has called on Iraqi political and religious leaders to help to rebuild the troubled country and overcome the "pitiless violence to which so many innocents are exposed".

Vatican Information Service reports that after praying the Angelus with thousands of faithful gathered in St Peter's Square, the Pope sent "a cordial greeting to Muslims all over the world who, during these days, are celebrating the end of the month of fasting of Ramadan".

"To all of them, my best wishes for serenity and peace," the Pope said.

"In dramatic contrast to this climate of joy," he added, "is the news coming from Iraq of the grave situation of insecurity and of the pitiless violence to which so many innocents are exposed, simply for being Shias, Sunnis or Christians."

The Pope also noted the "great concern" felt by the Christian community at the situation in the country.

Catholic News Service (CNS) says that half of all Iraqi Christians have fled their country over the past three and a half years, according to Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad. Before the invasion there were about 1.2 million Christians in the predominantly Shiite Muslim state; since then the overall number has dropped to about 600,000, he said.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, numerous churches have also been bombed, and Christians have been kidnapped, killed or threatened.

"I invite you," the Pope asked his audience, "to join me in my plea to the Almighty that He may give the necessary faith and courage to religious and political leaders, both locally and all over the world, to support [the Iraqi] people on the road of rebuilding their homeland, in their search for a shared equilibrium, with mutual respect, and an awareness that the multiplicity of [the country's] components is an integral part of its wealth."

Meanwhile, Middle East Catholic patriarchs have also again expressed their continuing concern at the current Christian exodus from the region, CNS says.

The negative impact of this instability on local economies and services, as well as on the psychology within communities, are key factors driving Christians away from the region, the council of Catholic patriarchs said at their 16th assembly which closed in Beirut at the weekend.

Pope urges world leaders to help Iraqis rebuild troubled nation (Catholic News Service, 22/10/06)
Mideast patriarchs: Instability must end if Christians are to remain (Catholic News Service, 22/10/06)
Appeal for peace in Iraq (Vatican Information Service, 23/10/06)

More young Christian women abducted, raped in Iraq (CathNews, 12/10/06)
More Catholic church attacks across Asia (CathNews, 27/9/06)
Five churches bombed in Baghdad (CathNews, 18/10/04)
Baghdad Patriarch says 'we knocked, a door opened' (CathNews, 29/9/04)

25 Oct 2006