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RAHHO-REACT (UPDATED) Mar-14-2008 (930 words) xxxn

Chaldean bishop says U.S. accountable for death of Iraqi archbishop

By Joe Kohn
Catholic News Service

DETROIT (CNS) -- A Chaldean Catholic bishop said the United States must be held accountable for the death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq.

Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based in Southfield, Mich., said that particularly the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is responsible for the terrorism and killing of Christians in Iraq. He said the administration is ignoring the problem.

"No one is defending us," he said March 13, the day the archbishop's body was recovered after kidnappers said where they had buried him. "They are killing Christians because they are Christians."

Bishop Ibrahim said the Feb. 29 kidnapping and subsequent death of the archbishop threw into question the destiny of Christians in Iraq. Three of the archbishop's companions were killed in the kidnapping.

"We know that before the invasion of the Americans in Iraq, (terrorism) was no such a thing," Bishop Ibrahim said. "Christians and Muslims were living together, exactly like brothers and sisters, and that's it. But since the invasion, everything changes."

"Somebody has to be responsible," the bishop said. "Since the Americans are occupying Iraq, they have the responsibility of the security of every Iraqi, and in the first place minorities. I am not saying the Christians only -- but they are doing nothing for them."

In a statement March 13, Bush expressed his condolences to the Chaldean community and Iraqis and deplored the archbishop's death.

"The terrorists will continue to lose in Iraq because they are savage and cruel," he said. "Their utter disregard for human life, demonstrated by this murder and by recent suicide attacks against innocent Iraqis in Baghdad and innocent pilgrims celebrating a religious holiday, is turning the Iraqi people against them.

"We will continue to work with the Iraqi government to protect and support civilians, irrespective of religious affiliation," he said.

Around the world, Catholic leaders expressed sorrow and alarm and spoke of the archbishop as a martyr.

"We find it inconceivable that internal, regional and international efforts could not have prevented this tragic fate," said Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut, Lebanon.

"We hope that this new sacrifice offered by the Iraqi Christians will be the last martyr, and we hope that the murder of this bishop strikes the alarm and wakens the consciences of leaders of Iraq and the region to do their utmost to stop the waves of extremism overwhelming the region. Our aim is the free and safe presence of the Christians in Iraq, Lebanon and the Middle East," he said.

Chaldean Archbishop Djibrail Kassab of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Sydney, Australia, said lawlessness in Iraq, "from kidnapping, extortion, murder, to forcing the Chaldeans to flee their country" is not new. The bishop said the Chaldean Catholic Church truly "can be called a martyr church."

"This is something we can be proud of," added the bishop, who formerly served as archbishop of Basra, Iraq. "In these days when faith needs to be stronger, we are in need of strong men and saintly martyrs to refresh our faith in our hearts and renew the life of the church."

The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, said March 14: "Such senseless killing is always shocking and inflicts a deep wound on our shared humanity. Our prayers are with the people of Iraq who continue to suffer so much."

In a letter to Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the killing "callous" and said it "demonstrates the particularly harsh realities faced by Christians in Iraq and the lack of security faced by all Iraqis." Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit also expressed "profound shock and sorrow" following the archbishop's death.

The news that the archbishop was killed could force Iraqi Christians underground, said Iraqi Christians in Need, a British-based charity aiding Christian Iraqis.

Suha Rassam, spokeswoman for the charity, said, "The only way for the church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the first and second centuries. This way, Mass and other services would be held in secret, and priests go about their duties clandestinely."

In a March 13 statement, Rassam said an underground church is not a "situation anyone would want, but the Christian population is living each day in terror of being kidnapped or murdered."

"When the church is facing persecution of this magnitude, then desperate measures might have to be taken," she said.

"Over the last eight months, attacks on Christians have been escalating," she said. "In June Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and three deacons were murdered, two priests were kidnapped in October, and in January four churches and a convent were bombed."

John Pontifex, London-based media officer of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which helps persecuted Christians, said that "firsthand reports given by bishops, priests and laypeople" show that "Christians are now terrified, and this sad news will simply speed up the rate of emigration, which in turn could cause Christianity to be extinguished from the country."

"The martyrdom of Archbishop Rahho will send out the clearest possible signal yet that no Christian is safe in Iraq," he said.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Simon Caldwell in London, Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut, Lebanon, and Dan McAloon in Sydney, Australia.


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