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Pope Appeals For Help in Iraq Reconstruction

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A masked gunman stands on a street corner as a building burns nearby in southern Iraqi town of Amarah. (AP)

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday appealed to political and religious leaders in Iraq and the world to help the conflict-ridden country in its reconstruction, and expressed solidarity with the Christian community and all victims of the violence there.

In his Sunday prayer in St. Peter's Square, Benedict also sent his "cordial greetings" to Muslims, who are celebrating the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, and wished them "serenity and peace."

The pope expressed worry for the "news coming out of Iraq on the very grave situation of insecurity and brutal violence to which many innocent people are subjected only because (they are) Shiites, Sunnis or Christians."

Benedict appealed to "the religious leaders, the political leaders, both local and of the world, to support those people on the path to reconstructing their homeland, in the search of a shared balance, in mutual respect, in the awareness that the plurality of its components is an integral part of its wealth."

"I perceive the great worry that runs through the Christian community and I intend to assure that I am close to it, as I am to all victims, and for all I call for strength and consolation," the pope said.

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.

Benedict has been calling for dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

He stepped up that call lately after coming 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 at a university in Germany.

Benedict has said that his words were misunderstood and that he was sorry that Muslims were offended.

On Friday, the Vatican released its annual Ramadan message and called on Muslims to join Catholics in working to defeat terrorism.

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