Pope expresses shock at 'violent deaths' of 58 Iraqi Catholics
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

.- Pope Benedict XVI has sent a message to the Syriac archbishop of Baghdad, marking the funerals of those who were killed by Muslim extremists at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation.

On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al Qaeda stormed the cathedral during Sunday Mass, taking over 120 Catholics hostage. After the Iraqi military raided the church to free the hostages, 58 people, including two priests, were killed.

The group that claimed responsibility for the attack is 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 by the Church.

On Nov. 2, the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a message sent by Pope Benedict to Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad.

"Deeply shocked by the violent deaths of so many faithful and of the priests Tha'ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I want to participate spiritually in the funeral while I pray that these brothers and sisters be accepted into the mercy of Christ in the Father's house," the Pope wrote.

“For years this beloved country has suffered untold difficulties and Christians have become the subject of brutal attacks that, in total disregard for life – an inviolable gift from God - want to undermine trust and peaceful coexistence,” he added.

“I renew my appeal that the sacrifice of these brothers and sisters may be a seed of peace and a true rebirth, so that those who believe in reconciliation, solidarity and fraternal coexistence, find motivation and strength to do good.”

In his concluding remarks, the Pope said that to “all of you, dear brothers and sisters, I offer my apostolic blessing, which I willingly extend to the injured and to your families so painfully tried."

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