Fr. Wasseem Sabb'ieh was hearing confessions at the time of the attack. He managed to rush two families to safety through a secret door before turning back to face the attackers.
“Before he closed the door, one of the people he helped said to him, ‘Father, leave them and come with us and you will be saved,’” Fr. Shisha recounted. “He answered, ‘I won't leave them like this,’ and he locked the door.”
Fr. Sabb’ieh proceeded directly to the attackers, shouting: “What do you want from us?”
He was killed with a bullet to the head while at the same time one of the attackers detonated a suicide bomb beside him.
Fr. Shisha is very aware of how close he himself was to death. He would have been at the Mass had he not been called back to his hometown in northern Baghdad to speak at a conference that day.
Stories of those saved are remarkable.
A little girl – Fr. Sa’adallah's niece – survived the attacks in a cupboard, where she was hidden during the more than four hours of terror. Many took refuge in the sacristy. Another 80 were saved as they packed themselves into a tiny side room that measured just 9 feet by 12 feet.
The memory of the dead is still graphically present in the cathedral. The bloody handprint of a pregnant woman who was killed has been conserved as a reminder of her martyrdom.
“There are too many stories to tell,” Fr. Shisha told CNA. “Essentially, those who died, who lost their lives in the church gave themselves for the cause of the others.”
In some ways, he said, his priest friends were prepared for the moment.
Just one day before the attack, Fr. Sa’adallah sent a text message to all of his friends which read simply: “My life is Christ.” Fr. Sabb’ieh was known to say out loud to God, “My heart beats with your love. May my tongue speak your glory.”
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Their lives were taken by five radical Muslims, two from Syria and one each from Yemen, Libya and Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a reported al-Qaida associate, claimed responsibility for the massacre.
During the attack, Fr. Shisha received cell phone calls from people trapped in the cathedral. They said the attackers told them they were “infidels” and that they “had to be killed.”
The terrorists killed themselves, but others who planned the attacks were later detained. Fr. Shisha was given the chance to speak with them, and he asked them simply, "(w)hy did you do this?"
“Their response,” he said, “was that you (Christians) are all ‘kafara,’ that is, ‘infidels,’ and we (Muslims) cannot coexist with you."
According to the Vatican's representative to Eastern Catholics, the attack should not be forgotten.