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Deadly Attack on Iraqi Christians

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Iraqi policemen stand guard outside the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq, 1 November. Dozens of hostages and police were killed the day before when security forces raided the cathedral to free worshippers being held by gunmen wearing explosives. (Photo: CNS/Mohammed Ameen, Reuters) 

03 Nov 2010 – by Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A deadly militant siege of a Catholic church in Baghdad, Iraq, was a “savage” act of “absurd violence,” Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope urged international and national authorities and all people of good will to work together to end the “heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East.” The attack occurred Oct. 31 as about 100 people gathered for Sunday Mass.

“I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, which is even more savage because it struck defenseless people, gathered in God’s house, which is a house of love and reconciliation,” Pope Benedict said after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints.

The following day, he sent a telegram to Baghdad as Catholics held funerals for two priests and several others among the 58 people killed in the violence.

“Deeply saddened by the violent deaths of so many faithful and of Fathers Tha’ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I want to participate spiritually in the funeral while I pray that these brothers and sisters would be welcomed into the mercy of Christ in the Father’s house,” the pope said.

“For years, this beloved country has suffered unspeakable pain, and even the Christians have become the objects of savage attacks which, with total disrespect for life, the inviolable gift of God, try to undermine trust and civil coexistence,” he said.

“I renew my appeal that the sacrifice of these brothers and sisters of ours may be seeds of peace and of true rebirth and so that all those who have at heart reconciliation and a coexistence marked by fraternity and solidarity would find reasons and strength to work for good,” the pope said.

On Nov. 1, Pope Benedict renewed his urgent call for peace in the Middle East.

While peace may be a gift of God, “it is also the result of efforts by people of good will and national and international institutions,” he said.

“May everyone unite their efforts so as to end all violence,” he said.

Armed militants wearing explosives first set off a car bomb across the street, killing two people in front of the Baghdad Stock Exchange. Then they stormed the church, killing another two people, according to reports.

The militants, who said they were part of the Islamic State of Iraq — a group with suspected ties to al-Qaida — held parishioners and priests hostage in the hopes of leveraging the release of prisoners from their network. The terrorists demanded prisoners linked to al-Qaida be set free from detention in Iraq and Egypt and they threatened to blow up the church if military forces attempted to break the siege.

After a standoff that lasted hours, Iraqi forces stormed the cathedral, and the ensuing firefight and a series of explosions left the 58 dead and 75 injured.

Unconfirmed reports said a third priest was among those who died at the hospital.

“There are a few churches and Christian institutions left in Baghdad, not so great a number that it is not unreasonable for them to be protected, security-wise,” he said, noting that the security being provided by the government is “far less than what we have hoped for and requested.”





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