The Vatican last Saturday urged Iraqi President Barham Saleh to guarantee the safety of Christians and ensure they have a future place in the war-battered country. President Saleh met with Pope Francis, the Vatican secretary of state and foreign minister during back-to-back audiences on Saturday 25th January, his second visit to the Vatican.
The Holy See says the meetings focused on promoting peace and security in Iraq, especially for Christian minorities, many of whom have fled communities that date from the time of Christ to escape persecution by Islamic State militants.
In a statement, the Vatican said the meetings covered the “importance of preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country, of which they are an integral part, and the significant contribution they bring to the reconstruction of the social fabric, highlighting the need to guarantee their security and a place in the future of Iraq.”
Pope Francis had expressed hope of visiting Iraq this year, but no trip has been confirmed and it’s unclear if it will be because of the turmoil unleashed by the U.S. drone strike on Iraqi soil that killed a top Iranian general. The Vatican hinted at the rising tensions, saying the discussions underlined the need for the international community to “re-establish trust and peaceful co-existence.”
During the meeting, President Saleh gave Pope Francis a replica of the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient set of Babylonian laws, calling it a “symbol of peace.” The Holy Father, for his part, gave the President a medallion and a set of his major teaching documents, including one on Christian-Muslim fraternity. He told him he wanted an Iraqi identity card identifying him as a descendant of Abraham, a figure common to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.