CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday encouraged Christians and Muslims in Iraq to continue their centuries-old brotherly ties as he prayed for peace and harmony in the violence-wracked country.
The pope told pilgrims at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo that he had "the joy" on Saturday of meeting with the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly.
Benedict said that the patriarch briefed him on "the tragic reality that must be faced daily by the dear population of Iraq, where Christians and Muslims live together for 14 centuries as children of the same land."
"I hope that these ties of brotherhood between them do not slacken, while, with sentiments of my spiritual closeness, I invite all to join me in asking Almighty God for the gift of peace and of harmony for that martyred country," Benedict said during his traditional Sunday appearance to give faithful his blessing.
Benedict came under siege from Muslim protests over a quotation from a Medieval Byzantine emperor about Islam and violence. The remarks came during a Sept. 12 speech about faith and reason that he gave at a university where he used to teach in his native Germany.
Benedict has said that his words were misunderstood and that he was sorry that Muslims were offended.
Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, has been seeking the release of a priest who was kidnapped in Baghdad.
The Rev. Hanna Saad Sirop, who is director of the Theology Department at Babel College, was abducted Aug. 15 as he left Mass celebrating the Assumption holiday.
Benedict also has appealed publicly for the priest's release, although the pope made no mention of the case Sunday.
Christians make up just 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The major Christian groups include Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians, with small numbers of Roman Catholics.
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