Page 1, 1st August 1980

1st August 1980
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Page 1, 1st August 1980 — Pope's bid to save priests in Iran
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Locations: Rome, Teheran, Pope John Paul

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Pope's bid to save priests in Iran

From Desmond O'Grady in Rome ARCHBISHOP Hilarion Capucci is believed to be taking a letter from Pope John Paul to Teheran this week in an attempt to forestall sanctions against priests and religious in Iran.

He was received by the Pope in a private audience at Castelgandolfo last week. No detaili of the meeting were released.

last week the Iranian minister for national orientation summoned representatives of Christian connnunities in Iran to tell them their personnel should be ready to leave the country within 15 days of receiving a departure order.

This general order has not yet been given. But expulsion orders have been given to specific groups such as French Lazzarist fathers, Italian and French sisters who have institutions in Teheran, and to some Armenian orthodox.

Twenty two Salesians are under house arrest in their college in Teheran. They are accused of spying for Israel and face other charges including tearing up a photograph of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The school was closed on July 16.

They were summoned to the Ministry of National Orientation this week and were expected to be expelled.

There are also reports that three priests have disappeared. There has been no news of them since they took some poor children to a resort on the Caspian Sea. Reports reaching Rome from Iran indicate considerable confusion, Archbishop Capucci, the controversial Melkite prelate who was imprisoned by Israel for gunrunning for the Palestinians, last week gave an Italian television interview on his return from a trip to Teheran. Ile confidently asserted that the problems of the Christian communities in Iran had been resolved and made particular reference to the Salesians, saying their arrest was due to a misunderstanding. Only some details remained to be resolved before the controversy could be ended, he said.

However. other reports at the time indicated that Capucci's sanguine statement was, at the least premature. Italian newspapers reported that the Iranian government had begun an official investigation of the spying charges. And the Iranian vice-minister of education, All-Ashgar Behjatnia, issued another warning to foreign missionaries to stay out of politics. Archbishop Capucci himself confirmed that mixed schools would no longer be allowed in Iran: "Muslims can no longer attend Catholic schools," he said .

On his return from Iran Archbishop Capucci also said that Iran should immediately release the 52 American hostages as a sign of "mercy and charity." He said he had requested the release during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on July 13 and ends on August 11. "1 pointed out to them the great value which a tension-easing gesture in regard to the American hostages would have and the favourable echo it would have throughout Islam and the whole world," he said.

The Archbishop. who was instrumental in getting the bodies of US servicemen returned home after the failed attempt to rescue the hostages, said the Koran calls for acts of "mercy and charity" during Ramadan. He did not say to which leaders he made the request nor what reaction he received.

The Vatican has not said whether the archbishop represents its interests in Iran. But it seems that it considers his comparatively good standing with the Iranians makes him suitable as an ambassador.

The Vatican's permanent representative in Teheran is the Italian Lazzarist Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, one of the main architects of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.




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