Friday, February 29, 2008

"At the Mercy of Terror"

Last October, some might remember the kidnapping of two Syrian-rite clerics in the Iraqi city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Earlier today, after presiding at the Stations of the Cross in his cathedral, the city's Chaldean prelate Bishop Faraj Raho (above) was similarly abducted, and three companions -- including his driver -- were killed.
The kidnappers are said to have already made a request. The abduction took place at 5.30 pm local time, Ishtar TV reported. Bishop Raho had just left Mosul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral.

“The bishop is in terrorist hands,” Mgr al-Qas said, “but we don’t know in what physical state. The three men who were with him, including his driver, were killed.”

“It is a terrible moment for our Church. Please, pray for us,” Arbil bishop said in an appeal to the world.
Shortly after the news reached the Vatican, a rare nighttime statement from Pope Benedict was released calling for the captors "to find it within their hearts to allow Mons. Raho to return to his flock.

"Embittered by this new shameful act which deeply affects the Church in the country and the Chaldean Church in particular, the Pope stands next to patriarch Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly and to the entire Christian community under duress, and his heart also goes out to the families of the victims," the statement said, according to Italian wire reports.

The pontiff "invites the universal Church to join him in prayer renewing the hope that the Iraqi people may soon find the path of peace and reconciliation," it added.

At last November's consistory, Benedict elevated Delly -- the Baghdad-based head of the Chaldean church -- to the college of cardinals; the 81 year-old patriarch became the first-ever Iraqi cardinal.

During the conferral ceremony itself, the Eastern cardinal was the lone designee of the 24-member class explicitly mentioned in the Pope's homily, as Benedict cited his wish to express "in a concrete way" his own "spiritual closeness and affection" and "the solidarity of the whole church" with the persecuted Christian community in the war-ravaged country.

Traveling with Delly for the Rome festivities, Raho offered a candid assessment of the state of Mosul.

As US forces "move[d] up" -- northward from Baghdad and southern Iraq -- "so do the terrorists, who are now concentrated in Mosul," the bishop said.
The bishop said there is a move to empty the city of its Christian inhabitants, though he said "such a plan does not target Christians alone, but the intelligentsia and the professional class as well, Muslims included."

"However, if Christians are only 3% of the city's total population, they represent 35% of those with a higher education. Forcing these people to leave means preventing the country from rising again. It means fueling ignorance, which is a support for terrorism," Bishop Raho explained....

"The main message of our prayers shall be peace […] which we have been trying to achieve despite threats and violence."
PHOTO: AsiaNews