The Vatican communicated on Wednesday that the Holy Father reacted with "deep sorrow" upon hearing the news of the most recent killings of Christians in Iraq, which reached him while he was on his annual Lenten retreat. The Holy See had urged respect for Iraqi Christians in a January letter to country's premier, but after continuing violence Christians have started to flee the city.
The Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported the Pope's sadness upon learning of the assassination of the father and two brothers of a Syro-Catholic priest in Mosul on Tuesday. He reacted with "deep sorrow," the paper said, while also relaying the Pope's closeness through prayer and affection "to all who suffer the consequences of violence."
Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone had written a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamil Mohammed al-Maliki on Jan. 2, at the Pope's behest, inviting a "moral and civil reconstruction" of the nation through "dialogue and cooperation between ethnic and religious groups... including minorities."
He expressed his hope that this would happen in "full respect of the individual identities of those groups, in a spirit of reconciliation and in search of the common good."
Cardinal Bertone also reminded the Iraqi leader of how Pope Benedict had asked him at the Vatican in 2008 to ensure that the right to freedom of religion be respected and that Christians and their churches would be protected.
On this occasion, related the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister had provided his personal assurance that the Iraqi government "took the situation of the Christian minority very seriously."
The cardinal closed his Jan 2. letter by asking Nouri al-Maliki to "pray with fervor for an end to the violence" and to have the government do "everything possible to increase security around places of worship in the entire country."
On Tuesday, three Christians were murdered in their home by unknown assailants. The victims were the father and two brothers of the Syro-Catholic priest Fr. Mazen Ishoa, who was himseld abducted and later released in Oct. 2007.
A Syro-Catholic priest, who is based in Rome but from Mosul, informed CNA on Wednesday morning that after the attack on Tuesday, many Christians are fleeing Mosul for the Christian cities and villages in the surrounding plain of Nineveh.
Many of the Christians, he continued, left with only the clothes they were wearing and some had already arrived at a convent in the city of Alqosh.
The priest also mentioned the recent of appeal from the Episcopal Conferences of the Syro-Catholic, Chaldean and Syro-Orthodox Churches for an international intervention on behalf of Iraqi Christians.
This is important, he wrote, "being as it is that the governments of Baghdad and the region of Nineveh are incapable of defending Iraqi Christians, especially those from Mosul."