Iraqi archbishop kidnapped, $1 million ransom demanded

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • March 6, 2008

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace and security in Iraq after kidnappers abducted Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, and killed the three people who were travelling with him.

“May those who hold in their hands the fate of the Iraqi people increase their efforts so that through the commitment and wisdom of everyone, (Iraqis) may regain peace and security and not be denied the future that is rightfully theirs,” the Pope said to people gathered for his Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square March 2.

Rahho was kidnapped late Feb. 29 after he finished leading the Way of the Cross, Chaldean Bishop Rabban al Qas of Arbil told the Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews. The Mosul archbishop had just left the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul and was in his car with his driver and two bodyguards when the kidnappers attacked.

“The bishop is in the hands of terrorists,” Qas told AsiaNews Feb 29. “But we don’t know what physical condition (the archbishop is in); the three men who were with him in the car, including his driver, were killed.”

The kidnappers have communicated their demands, which reportedly include a $1 million ransom, according to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians.

Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad told the charity March 3 that while the kidnappers’ aim was obviously to procure money “they clearly also wanted to scare the Christians in Mosul and all over the country and let them know they are not safe.”

He recalled the kidnapping of Syrian-rite Archbishop Basile Casmoussa of Mosul, who was abducted briefly in 2005, but said Rahho’s disappearance was causing greater concern.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “attacking Christians means attacking the Iraqi people,” AsiaNews reported March 4. In a written message, he assured Chaldean church leaders that Iraqi government forces had been mobilized “to work without rest to guarantee, as soon as possible, the return of the archbishop of Mosul.”

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Vatican Radio March 2 that violence against Christians “destroys the trust and brotherhood” between Iraqis. But he said numerous Muslim leaders have made appeals and are working for the archbishop’s release. Shiite and Sunni leaders have condemned the kidnapping as “against every principle of Islam,” AsiaNews reported.

Sako said the archbishop was abducted by “a criminal group; it is not a group that claims an ideology.”

Sako said the Pope’s appeal resonates throughout all of Iraq “because when he speaks it is balanced,” which is noticed and appreciated by Muslim leaders there.

After praying the Angelus March 2, the Pope said he was adding his voice to the appeal of the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, to quickly release the 65-year-old archbishop who is in a “precarious condition of health” and reportedly must take medications daily.

The Pope said his prayers were with the “three young men who were with him at the moment of the kidnapping and were killed.”

A Vatican statement released Feb. 29 said the archbishop’s abduction and the killing of his aides was a “despicable act.” The Vatican said the fact that the archbishop was abducted immediately after leading a Way of the Cross service indicated that the attack was premeditated.

The incident came less than a year after a Chaldean Catholic priest and three companions were gunned down outside the same Mosul church.

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