Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq was kidnapped on Friday by gunmen who killed his driver and two bodyguards. Pope Benedict has denounced the act as “premeditated” and “despicable” and called on the entire Catholic Church to pray for the archbishop’s prompt release.
Archbishop Rahho was ambushed as he left a church in the eastern al-Nour district, immediately after he finished celebrating the Way of the Cross at a local church and shared consoling words of hope and peace with the parishioners, according to local sources.
“Eyewitnesses said that a group of armed men attacked Archbishop Rahho’s vehicle. The gunmen opened fire on the car, killing the three aides, before kidnapping the archbishop.
"The bishop is in the hands of terrorists," Bishop Rabban al-Qas, the bishop of the northern Iraqi cities of Irbil and Amadiyah told reporters. "It's a terrible time for our church; pray for us," he added.
The kidnappers have reportedly communicated their demands, which were not made public.
The Vatican responded to the violent kidnapping with a statement that condemned the act as premeditated since the gunmen knew Rahho would be celebrating the Way of the Cross.
Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the whole Catholic Church "to unite in fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevail among the authors of the kidnapping, and that Monsignor Rahho is returned quickly to the care of his flock," according to the statement.
The Holy Father also expressed his spiritual closeness to the Iraqi people, particularly the minority Christians, and offered his prayers that the whole country could find the path to reconciliation and peace.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops. These radical Muslims are able to use this strategy to recruit other extremists, raise terror funds, and force Christians to flee the country forfeiting their homes and property to extremists. The property is then sold or used to fund insurgency strikes against coalition forces.
Churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians have been systematically attacked by Islamic militants forcing most Christians to flee the country. Without any protection and indifference by the Iraqi government, Christians in Iraq remain easy targets for their attempts to destabilize the government.
Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported in November that Rahho said the situation in Mosul was not improving and "religious persecution is more noticeable than elsewhere because the city is split along religious lines."
"Everyone is suffering from this war irrespective of religious affiliation, but in Mosul Christians face starker choices," he told MISNA.