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Kidnapped Iraq archbishop found dead


Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of the northern Iraq city of Mosul, who was kidnapped in February by armed attackers, has been found dead, church officials in Baghdad have announced.

"We found him lifeless near Mosul. His abductors had buried him," the Rome-based SIR news agency quoted Baghdad’s auxiliary bishop, Shlemon Warduni, as saying on 13 March.

In a telegram to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean-rite Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Pope Benedict XVI condemned "an act of inhuman violence which offends the dignity of the human being".

Archbishop Rahho had been abducted in Mosul on 29 February by gunmen who also killed three of his companions.

In Geneva, the World Council of Churches said it was "deeply saddened" by the news of the archbishop’s death and called for prayers for the Iraqi Christian community, and for an end to the war in Iraq.

"The death of Archbishop Paulos under the current circumstances of war and violence in Iraq is distressful for all who believe in peace and reconciliation," said the church grouping which has 349 member churches around the world, principally Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox. "While the cause of his death remains unknown, his recent kidnapping reflects the continuing deterioration of the situation in Mosul and the ongoing struggle of the Iraqi people," it said.

Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi described the news of the archbishop’s death as "a deep and painful blow" to the Pope. "We had all continued to hope and pray for his release, something the Pope had requested on a number of occasions in his appeals," Lombardi said. The Vatican spokesperson added, "Unfortunately the most senseless and unjustified violence continues to be inflicted on the Iraqi people, and particularly on the small Christian community to which the Pope and all of us are particularly close in prayer and solidarity at this moment of great suffering."

Until the US-led military action in 2003, Christians accounted for roughly 3 per cent of Iraq’s mainly Muslim population, or about 700 000 people. Approximately 70 per cent of them belong to the Chaldean church, which follows the ancient Chaldean rite but is in union with the Catholic Church.

Bishop Warduni said the church had received a message from Rahho’s kidnappers on 12 March that the archbishop had died.

"This morning [13 March], they called us to say they had buried him. Some of our young men followed the directions given by the abductors to reach the place," Warduni said. "Here they dug up and found the lifeless bishop. We do not know yet whether he died because of his unstable health or if he has been killed. The abductors only told us he had died”.

News reports said that after Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped, the church had received a "staggering" ransom demand.

Appeals for the release of the prelate had come also from Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who chairs the board of trustees of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, and was in February named the 2008 winner of the Niwano Peace Prize. The prince had said, "We must all stand firmly against these criminal acts and affirm to our communities that they are against all religious and human principles and values.

Ecumenical News International