Patriarch Raphael Bidawid, spiritual leader of Iraq's Chaldean Catholics, has died in Beirut, at the age of 81. The Vatican's missionary news service Fides said he had been in hospital for several months. The Patriarch was an outspoken opponent of the sanctions on Iraq, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Some accused him of being an apologist for Saddam Hussein, but he responded that he was only defending his country. During a 1991 visit to the Vatican he accused the Gulf War allies of genocide against the Iraqi people. "These nations should feel pretty guilty. It was a vendetta, a shame for humanity,'" he said. Pope John Paul II sent a condolence message yesterday, praising Bidawid's long service for the Chaldean Catholic Church. Chaldean Catholics are the largest Christian community in Iraq, numbering between 500,000 and 700,000. Patriarch Raphael was born in Mosul, Iraq, and entered a seminary there at the age of 11. He later studied theology and philosophy in Rome. He was ordained in 1944 and became bishop in 1957 at the age of 35 - at the time the youngest in the world, according to a Fides biography. A synod of the Chaldean Church elected him patriarch in 1989, after the death of Mar Pulus II Chekho.
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