From the New York Times.
By PETER KIEFER
Published: December 28, 2006
ROME, Dec. 27 — Pope Benedict XVI granted a private audience on Wednesday to an Iranian delegation, including Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who presented him with a letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Italian news reports said.
Mr. Mottaki, whose ministry earlier this month held a two-day gathering of Holocaust deniers and white supremacists in Tehran, and the other Iranians exchanged pleasantries with the pope in a meeting that lasted 30 minutes, the reports said. The private meeting came after the pope’s general audience, the reports said.
Iranian news accounts described the meeting as “very cordial” and reported that the content of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter was of a religious nature and not a political one.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the pope issued a note after the meeting in which he “reaffirmed the role that the Holy See intends to exercise for world peace not as a political authority, but as a religious and moral one, appealing to the conscience because the problems of the people are always resolved with dialogue, in mutual understanding and in peace.”
The Vatican indirectly issued a statement at the time of the Holocaust deniers conference, saying that the Holocaust “was a great tragedy before which we cannot remain indifferent” and which must serve as a warning to people’s consciences.
Pope Benedict XVI looks at a gift presented to him by Vice-President and Head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization Esfandiar Rahim-Moshaee (L) at the Vatican December 27, 2006. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano/Handout (VATICAN)
The English version of the Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday that during the audience with the Iranians, the pope had expressed “appreciation for Iranians’ sentiments for Mary and Jesus Christ” and asked that his greetings be conveyed to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Earlier this month, Benedict had met with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who urged Christians to protest Holocaust denials. Mr. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.
Pope Benedict XVI meets Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki (C) and Vice-President and Head of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization Esfandiar Rahim-Moshaee (R) at the Vatican December 27, 2006.
The letter delivered on Wednesday was one in a series from Mr. Ahmadinejad. Earlier this year, he wrote a letter to President Bush criticizing American policies and the war in Iraq. Later, he wrote a letter to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in which he discussed the legacy of the Holocaust. Before Wednesday, his most recent letter had come last month and was addressed to the American people. In it, he urged the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
You can find the full text of Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush here.
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Mr. George Bush,
President of the United States of America,
Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one’s opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs, make “War on Terror” his slogan, and finally, work towards the establishment of a unified international community – a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time, have countries attacked. The lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the presence of a few criminals in a village, city, or convoy for example, the entire village, city or convoy set ablaze.
You might know that I am a teacher. My students ask me how can these actions be reconciled with the values outlined at the beginning of this letter and duty to the tradition of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the Messenger of peace and forgiveness? There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation, their families cannot see them and are obviously kept in a strange land outside their own country. There is no international monitoring of their conditions and fate. No one knows whether they are prisoners, POWs, accused or criminals.
European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe too. I could not correlate the abduction of a person, and him or her being kept in secret prisons, with the provisions of any judicial system. For that matter, I fail to understand how such actions correspond to the values outlined in the beginning of this letter, i.e. the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH), human rights and liberal values.
Students are saying that sixty years ago such a country did not exist. They show old documents and globes and say try as we have, we have not been able to find a country named Israel.
[Andrew:Perhaps they've never read a Bible with maps? =)]
I tell them to study the history of WWI and WWII. One of my students told me that during WWII, which more than tens of millions of people perished in, news about the war, was quickly disseminated by the warring parties. Each touted their victories and the most recent battlefront defeat of the other party. After the war they claimed that six million Jews had been killed. Six million people that were surely related to at least two million families.
Again let us assume that these events are true. Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East or support for such a state? How can this phenomenon be rationalized or explained?
I am sure you know how – and at what cost – Israel was established:
* Many thousands were killed in the process.
* Millions of indigenous people were made refugees.
* Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland, olive plantations, towns and villages were destroyed.
Another big question asked by the people is “why is this regime being supported?” Is support for this regime in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ (PBUH) or Moses (PBUH) or liberal values? Or are we to understand that allowing the original inhabitants of these lands – inside and outside Palestine – whether they are Christian, Moslem or Jew, to determine their fate, runs contrary to principles of democracy, human rights and the teachings of prophets? If not, why is there so much opposition to a referendum? The newly elected Palestinian administration recently took office. All independent observers have confirmed that this government represents the electorate. Unbelievingly, they have put the elected government under pressure and have advised it to recognize the Israeli regime, abandon the struggle and follow the programs of the previous government.
It is not my intention to distress anyone.
If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Joseph, or Jesus Christ (PBUH) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior? Will we be given a role to play in the promised world, where justice will become universal and Jesus Christ (PBUH) will be present? Will they even accept us? My basic question is this: Is there no better way to interact with the rest of the world? Today there are hundreds of millions of Christians, hundreds of millions of Muslims and millions of people who follow the teachings of Moses (PBUH). All divine religions share and respect one word and that is “monotheism” or belief in a single God and no other in the world.
The Holy Koran stresses this common word and calls on all followers of divine religions and says: [3.64] Say: O followers of the Book! Come to an equitable proposition between us and you that we shall not serve any but Allah and (that) we shall not associate aught with Him, and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides Allah; but if they turn back, then say: Bear witness that we are Muslims. (The Family of Imran)
According to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine Prophets.
“To worship a God which is above all powers in the world and can do all He pleases.” “The Lord which knows that which is hidden and visible, the past and the future, knows what goes on in the Hearts of His servants and records their deeds.” “The Lord who is the possessor of the heavens and the earth and all universe is His court” “planning for the universe is done by His hands, and gives His servants the glad tidings of mercy and forgiveness of sins” “He is the companion of the oppressed and the enemy of oppressors” “He is the Compassionate, the Merciful” “He is the recourse of the faithful and guides them towards the light from darkness” “He is witness to the actions of His servants” “He calls on servants to be faithful and do good deeds, and asks them to stay on the path of righteousness and remain steadfast” “Calls on servants to heed His prophets and He is a witness to their deeds” “A bad ending belongs only to those who have chosen the life of this world and disobey Him and oppress His servants” and “A good end and eternal paradise belong to those servants who fear His majesty and do not follow their lascivious selves.”
We believe that a return to the teachings of the divine prophets is the only road leading to salvation. I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (PBUH) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth.
We also believe that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was one of the great prophets of the Almighty. He has been repeatedly praised in the Koran. Jesus (PBUH) has been quoted in Koran as well: [19.36] And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. Marium Service to and obedience of the Almighty is the credo of all divine messengers.
The God of all people in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the Pacific and the rest of the world is one. He is the Almighty who wants to guide and give dignity to all His servants. He has given greatness to Humans.
We again read in the Holy Book: “The Almighty God sent His prophets with miracles and clear signs to guide the people and show them divine signs and purify them from sins and pollutions. And He sent the Book and the balance so that the people display justice and avoid the rebellious”.
All of the above verses can be seen, one way or the other, in the Good Book as well.
Divine prophets have promised: The day will come when all humans will congregate before the court of the Almighty, so that their deeds are examined. The good will be directed towards Heaven and evildoers will meet divine retribution. I trust both of us believe in such a day, but it will not be easy to calculate the actions of rulers, because we must be answerable to our nations and all others whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by our actions.
All prophets, speak of peace and tranquility for man – based on monotheism, justice and respect for human dignity.
Do you not think that if all of us come to believe in and abide by these principles, that is, monotheism, worship of God, justice, respect for the dignity of man, belief in the Last Day, we can overcome the present problems of the world – that are the result of disobedience to the Almighty and the teachings of prophets – and improve our performance? Do you not think that belief in these principles promotes and guarantees peace, friendship and justice? Do you not think that the aforementioned written or unwritten principles are universally respected? Will you not accept this invitation? That is, a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?
We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point - that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: “Do you not want to join them?”
Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.
Vasalam Ala Man Ataba’al hoda
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran