By Courtney Mares
As tensions escalate between Iran and the United States following the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the pope’s diplomat in Tehran is appealing for dialogue.
Archbishop Leo Boccardi has served as apostolic nuncio to Iran since 2013. Speaking to EWTN News from Tehran, Boccardi said he has been keeping the Vatican updated on the situation on the ground in Tehran with regular dispatches to the Secretariat of State.
“I believe that the words of the Holy Father have been an invitation to moderation, to dialogue, to negotiation to get through the tension and to see, to hope, that there are none of these … acts of revenge,” Archbishop Boccardi told EWTN News Jan. 6.
The pope called for dialogue and self-control in the “terrible air of tension” in his Angelus address Jan. 5.
Archbishop Boccardi said he does not foresee immediate implications for the small population of Christians living in Iran due to the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani, saying it is not a religious conflict. “It is a war that is unfolding between Iran and another particular opponent who has a name and surname,” Boccardi said.
US President Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, as well as Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, at the Baghdad International Airport Jan. 3.
The airstrike followed an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and U.S. officials claim that Soleimani had planned additional attacks against Americans. The US State Department had designated Soleimani a global terrorist in 2011.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani pledged revenge for the drone attack that killed Soleimani, and Trump threatened in a tweet Jan. 4 to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran were to strike any Americans, a move which Pentagon officials later rejected. Chants of “Death to America” were heard at Soleimani’s funeral Jan. 6.
“Good politics is at the service of peace, the whole international community must put itself at the service of peace, not only in the region but in the whole world,” Archbishop Boccardi said in an Italian Vatican Radio interview Jan. 3.
“The appeal is to lower tension, call everyone to negotiation,” he said. “We must believe in dialogue.”
Boccardi said that a peaceful Middle East is the responsibility of the international community. The nuncio said “pacta sunt servanda” (agreements are to be kept) is an important rule for diplomacy, and underlined that the rules of law must be respected by everyone.
“We must ‘arm ourselves’ with other weapons which are those of justice and goodwill,” he said.
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, echoed the nuncio’s sentiment, calling for prayer, prudence, and dialogue.
“I have to say personally that I am very shocked by hearing the words ‘taking revenge,’” Sako told EWTN News Jan. 6.
“We are very lucky to be Christian because our culture and our education and our mentality is a mentality of peace, respect, and life, and not of blood and taking revenge,” the Iraqi cardinal said.
Sako said that he believes that Europe can be a bridge to aid with dialogue between Iran and Iraq, as well as with the United States.
“The international community has a responsibility for what is happening in the region in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran now. They should help people to sit together and to dialogue in a civilized way and to look for a political solution … not fighting, and threatening people and so on,” he said.
“And I ask all of our Christians to pray for us and to keep us in their prayers,” he added.
Alan Holdren contributed to this report.