Friday, March 14, 2008

Funeral mass for Iraqi archbishop

Christians from across Iraq have been attending the funeral of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Surrounded by armed guards, mourners wept and held flowers as the coffin was carried through the village of Kremlis, near Mosul in northern Iraq

$1 million ransom

Kidnappers of a Chaldean Catholic archbishop found dead in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul had demanded a $1 million ransom, a senior police official said on Friday.

The Catholic Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found dead Thursday in a shallow grave in that northern Iraq city. On February 29, Islamist extremists had abducted the 65-year-old prelate while he prayed, in Aramaic, the language of Jesus himself, the Lenten Stations of the Cross at his church.

There could be no starker statement that Christians are targeted for their faith in a ruthlessly intolerant Iraq. Cardinal Delly, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, weeps in Baghdad; he weeps for his martyred friend, and for the bitter fate of Iraq’s ancient Christian Church.

The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave close to the city.

Pope Benedict XVI said he was profoundly moved and saddened, calling the archbishop's death an act of inhuman violence.

Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped after leading prayers at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul on 29 February. Three people who were with him at the time, a driver and two guards, were killed by the gunmen.

According to the SIR Catholic news agency, the kidnappers told Iraqi church officials on Wednesday that Archbishop Rahho was very ill and, later on the same day, that he was dead.

Died at least a week ago

However, Iraqi police say the condition of the archbishop's body suggests that he may have died at least a week ago.

It is not clear whether he was killed, or died of natural causes. Nobody has claimed responsibility for his death.

The archbishop's body was found by church workers who went to the area after being contacted by the kidnappers.

'Horrible crime'

The archbishop, 65, was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Only last Sunday, Pope Benedict had appealed for the archbishop's release.

A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said: "The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community, whom the Pope holds in his prayers in this time of deep sadness.

"This tragic event underscored once more and with more urgency the duty of all, and in particular of the international community, to bring peace to a country that has been so tormented."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said those behind the kidnapping would not escape justice.

It was, he said, a "horrible crime" by "a criminal, terrorist gang".

Who are the Chaldeans?

The Chaldeans are the largest sect within Iraq's Christian community, which was estimated at 800,000 before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Many have left their homes after attacks linked to the continuing insurgency.
550,000 Chaldeans, forming majority of Iraq's Christians are an Eastern-rite Church with liturgical languag in Syriac, descended from Aramaic. They are autonomous from Rome but recognizes Pope's authority. Their spiritual leader is Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, based in Baghdad

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