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 CNS Story:

JORDAN-IRAQIS (UPDATED) May-10-2009 (420 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope keeps Iraqis in thoughts, prayers during Jordan visit

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- As Pope Benedict XVI made his pilgrimage through Jordan, his thoughts were also on neighboring Iraq and its struggling Christian population.

Several times during events May 8-10, the pope praised Jordan's generosity in welcoming an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees over the last several years of war and civil strife in the neighboring country.

Outside the King Hussein Mosque in Amman May 9, speaking to an audience that included international diplomats, the pope warmly greeted Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad and noted the Iraqi refugee presence in Jordan.

"The international community's efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis," the pope said.

He thanked all those working to deepen trust and rebuild the institutions and infrastructure in Iraq. He urged international and local leaders to "do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens."

Church sources said there were at least 40,000 Christians among the Iraqi refugee population in Jordan. Many of them were present at the pope's Mass May 10 in an Amman soccer stadium, and the pope greeted them after the liturgy.

Among the group was the Naiomi family, Chaldean Catholics who fled to Amman from Mosul, Iraq, three years ago.

"We want the pope to send a message of peace so that people can understand that the Christian religion is a peacemaker," said Saif Naiomi, 24.

"I wish the pope could go to Iraq, but he can't because there is no security," he added.

Nidhal Joekarmo, a Chaldean Catholic from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., traveled to Amman to see Pope Benedict at the Mass. Joekarmo, who was born in Iraq but has lived in Michigan more than 30 years, said this papal visit was especially significant because it took place in a Muslim country in the Middle East.

"We need help," Joekarmo said of her homeland.

"Now no one cares about Iraq" since the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein, she said. "And now they want to kick the Christians out."

Iraq's Christian population has dwindled to approximately half since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Before the pope began his eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an Iraqi newspaper reported that the pope would make a visit to Baghdad. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, repeated in Amman that the report was without foundation.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad.


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