Iraqi Catholics were beside themselves with grief on Monday after Islamic militants stormed the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad and held members hostage in an unprecedented attack that left more than 50 dead and over 70 wounded.
On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al-Qaida took over 120 faithful hostage at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation during Mass, demanding that the Coptic Church of Egypt release the wife of one of its priests, whom the extremists claim voluntarily converted to Islam and was subsequently locked up in a convent.
After the Iraqi military raided the church to free the hostages, over 50 people, including 2 priests, were killed. Vatican Radio reported that between 70 and 80 people are seriously wounded from the attack, many of them women and children.
Pope Benedict lamented the disaster after he prayed the Angelus on Nov. 1. He condemned the “savage” attack and offered prayers for the victims.
“I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, even more ferocious in that it has been inflicted upon defenseless people gathered in God's house, which is a house of love and reconciliation,” the Holy Father said.
“I express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, now stricken again, and I encourage its pastors and faithful alike to be strong and firm in hope.”
“Beyond these savage moments of violence, that continue to tear apart the peoples of the Middle East, I would finally like to renew a heartfelt appeal for peace: it is a gift of God, but it is also the result of the efforts of men of good will, of national and international institutions.”
“May everyone unite their strengths to end every act of violence!” the Pope urged.
Vatican Radio noted that the country's inability to form a solid government after the March elections has opened up the possibility of extremists gaining influence, resulting in mounting attacks on Christians by Islamic militants.
Archbishop Georges Casmoussa, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul stressed that “what we are asking for, and we repeat this appeal, is that our governors and the international community push to bring peace to Iraq and push for the formation of a responsible government, so there is some authority over the situation here in Iraq.”
Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Shlemon Warduni, added that “the Christian community no longer feels safe, not even in the House of God, this attack will have a very negative influence on those who until now had chosen to remain in Baghdad, with many saying they are ready to leave.”