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POPE-IRAQ (UPDATED) Jun-6-2007 (630 words) With photos posted June 4. xxxi

Iraqi bishop pauses due to weeping at funeral of priest, subdeacons

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- Chaldean Catholic Bishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was forced to pause during the funeral of an Iraqi priest and three subdeacons due to the weeping of so many in the congregation.

Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and subdeacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid were buried after the June 4 funeral in Father Ganni's hometown of Karamless, said a June 5 press statement from the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need.

The four men were killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul June 3 while leaving the Church of the Holy Spirit after having celebrated Sunday Mass.

Father Habib Al Nafali, a Chaldean Catholic priest based in London, told Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic organization funding religious projects in 145 countries, that "people were crying during the funeral service, and for awhile the bishop could not continue speaking."

The priest said many clergy and friends of Father Ganni already are calling him a "martyr of the church."

Iraqi Father Saad Syrop Hanna, 35, who was ordained in Rome in October 2001 alongside Father Ganni, said: "The Christians really are paying a great price. Is there any end for what is happening in Iraq?"

He added that Father Ganni's "death is a great loss for our church in Iraq. I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will transform the blood of these martyrs into new life for the church in Iraq."

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped the killings would inspire people to reject hatred and violence and to bring about justice and peace in Iraq.

A telegram sent in the pope's name to Archbishop Rahho said Pope Benedict "prays that their costly sacrifice will inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence, to conquer evil with good and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, sent the telegram June 4.

The pope "joins the Christian community in Mosul in commending their souls to the infinite mercy of God and in giving thanks for their selfless witness to the Gospel," said Cardinal Bertone.

Father Ganni, the three subdeacons, and the wife of one of the subdeacons were driving away from the church when their car was blocked by a group of armed militants, according to a report by AsiaNews, a Rome-based agency.

The armed men forced the woman out of the car. Once the woman was away from the vehicle, the armed men opened fire on Father Ganni and the three subdeacons, an ordained position lower than a deacon in most Eastern Catholic churches.

The militants then placed explosives around the car to prevent anyone from retrieving the four bodies.

Hours later authorities finally managed to defuse the explosives and retrieve the bodies.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad condemned the killings in a statement released June 4.

"It is a most heinous crime that any person of proper conscience would reject. The authors (of this crime) carried out a most horrible act against God, against humanity, against their own brothers who were peace-loving citizens, as well as men of religion who always offered their prayers to God almighty for security and stability in Iraq," he said.

This was not the first attack against Chaldean Catholics. In August of 2002 a Chaldean Catholic nun was killed in Baghdad. The Church of the Holy Spirit also has been bombed several times in recent months.

In a statement also released to AsiaNews June 4, the Chaldean Synod of Bishops called on "Iraqi leaders and international organizations to intervene to put a concrete end to these criminal acts."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Alicia Ambrosio at the Vatican.


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