Christians in Baghdad pray for peace
There was a reminder yesterday that a war with Iraq would see Christians dropping bombs on other Christians, as the Popeís envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray took a church service in Baghdad.
Delivering a homily in French, which was translated into Aramaic, the ancient language of Christ, he led the congregation in prayers for peace and reassured the congregation that the world had not forgotten them.
Christians account for 3% of the Iraqi population.
ìThe anguish under which you live doesnít cease to grow during these days,î the Cardinal said at the service. ìWe are gathered here to show the extent of how much peace and prayers are truly linked to each other.î
The Cardinal, a Basque who is renowned for his close relationship with the Pope and for being able to bypass Vatican politics, is a frequent visitor to troubled places. He has travelled in the name of peace to Vietnam, East Timor, Mexico and Algeria.
This is his third visit to Iraq. The first was in 1985 during the Iraq-Iran War, when he tried to negotiate the exchange of prisoners. He returned in 1998 to determine whether a papal visit was feasible. His latest visit comes at a time when Iraqis, who have already suffered from nearly 12 years of sanctions, feel vulnerable and isolated.
The Cardinal, who arrived on a United Nations aircraft, will stay for several days in Baghdad. He has seen Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President, and Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister.
During his mission to Iraq, the Cardinal will deliver a personal letter from the Pope to Saddam Hussein. The date of a meeting with the President has not yet been set, but he said that his one-hour meeting with Mr Aziz and Mr Ramadan was ìin itself a sign of the interest that we both have in listening to each other, in hearing each other, in listening to points of view which all converge on a just peaceî.