Pope pleads for end to savagery in Iraq

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • November 3, 2010
Baghdad coffinsVATICAN CITY - A terrorist attack on a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq, that left at least 58 dead and 80 wounded was a “savage” act of “absurd violence,” Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Pope urged international and national authorities to work together to end the “heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East.”

Muslim militants, dressed in khaki pants and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide vests, stormed Our Lady of Salvation Church Oct. 31 while more than 100 faithful were celebrating evening Sunday Mass. The Washington Post reported that Fr. Wassem Sabeeh was among the first people executed. Another priest, Fr. Thaer Abdullah, was also killed.

According to a survivor who spoke to the Post, the terrorists quickly executed several people. “They were well trained,” said the eyewitness. “They didn’t say anything. It was like someone had cut out their tongues.”

The terrorists, who said they were part of the Islamic State of Iraq — a group with suspected ties to al-Qaeda — held more than 100 people hostage. Reports indicated the terrorists were seeking release of two Christian women in Egypt who, the terrorists claim, had converted to Islam but are being held in Egypt against their will by their Coptic priest husbands. Some witnesses also said the terrorists wanted revenge for the actions of a Florida minister who had threatened to burn the Koran.

After a four-hour standoff, Iraqi forces stormed the cathedral and, in the ensuing firefight and explosions, dozens of hostages, Iraqi security forces and eight of the nine terrorists were killed.

Survivors described random killings and a gunman slaughtering hostages en masse as the Iraqi army stormed the church.

Amid charges that Iraqi security forces failed to provide adequate security for Iraqi’s persecuted Christians, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the detention of a police commander who was in charge of securing the neighbourhood in Baghdad where Our Lady of Salvation is located. The government also promised to care for the wounded, compensate relatives of the dead and immediately  repair the church.

At a Nov. 1 funeral service for the dead, Iraqi’s top Catholic prelate, Chaldean cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, called on the government to honour commitments to protect Iraq’s Christians, who have been subjected to repeated kidnappings, torture and murder since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“What happened was more than a catastrophic and tragic event,” Wijdan Michael, the Iraqi Human Rights Minister who is a Christian, said during a visit to the church. “In my opinion, it is an attempt to force Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq and to empty Iraq of Christians.”

Iraqi bishops had just participated in a special Synod of Bishops Oct. 10-24 with the Pope at the Vatican; the synod drew attention to the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.

During the synod, Iraqi bishops said kidnappings for ransom, bombings of churches and other Christian buildings and a general lack of security have made life so precarious for the vulnerable Christian community that about half have left their homeland for safer destinations in the past seven years.

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