Vatican, Jun. 3 (CWNews.com) - Returning from a visit to Iraq, a Vatican envoy said that the people of that country are grateful for the Pope's efforts on their behalf. But he voiced some concern over threats to the religious freedom of Christians after war.

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, was in Baghdad and Mosul last week, visiting with the country's Catholic leaders and helping to coordinate relief efforts.

The archbishop said that "everyone expressed gratitude to the Holy Father for his tireless commitment to the people of Iraq and to peace." Pope John Paul was outspoken in his opposition to military action against Iraq, and had been highly critical of the long international embargo against the country.

Archbishop Cordes, in a prepared statement released by the Vatican on June 3, recalled a previous statement by the patriarchs and bishops of Iraq, released on April 29. The Church leaders had insisted that Christians have an important role to play in the life of the country, and looked forward t o "a future in which religious, cultural, social, and political rights are recognized, and in which, particularly, Christians have the right to profess their faith freely."

The  full text of the archbishop's message is available on the Vatican web site.

Catholics, primarily of the Chaldean rite, form an important minority in Iraq. Although they were able to practice their faith under the Baathist regime, concerns about their future have been raised by the renewed vigor of Islamic movements in the post-war period.

Archbishop Cordes reported that relief efforts are picking up steam in Iraq today. He said that Catholic agencies have pinpointed the main targets for their efforts, "such as emergency aid in food, housing, sanitation, and education."