.- Despite potential danger, several hundred people gathered at St. Joseph's Chaldean Church in Baghdad yesterday for a special memorial mass for Pope John Paul II.
Iraq’s newly trained soldiers provided security for the event. They stood outside the church, searched cars and asked for ID cards from people at different stations surrounding the church, reported The Associated Press. Most Christians appreciated the heightened security.
"The Pope won the hearts of everybody because he worked for the good of all," said Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, the head of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church. The Pope’s death "was a loss not only for Iraqi Catholics and Christians but indeed it was a loss for the whole world," he said.
The patriarch concelebrated the mass in Arabic with the heads of the Latin, Armenian and Syrian Catholic churches, and a representative of the papal nuncio's office.
In a show of solidarity, five Shiites, including a cleric from Iran, reportedly attended the mass.
"We lost a man who was a symbol for peace, justice and faith in the world, and we wish that God will replace him with a man like him," Iranian Ali Akbar Hakim told the AP. "We wish that God will take him to heaven and give his family and friends the patience to withstand this loss."
The Pope was remembered for having given hope to the dwindling Christian communities of the Middle East. Archbishop Jean Sleiman of Iraq’s Latin church recalled the Pope's disappointment at not being able to visit Iraq in 1999.
The Pope had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the U.N. sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Iraq has about 800,000 Christians, but the community has continued to emigrate from the region since 1991.