Mousul, IRAQ- Pope Benedict made an emotional appeal for an end to violence and massacres in Iraq, as he recalled during Palm Sunday services the death of a kidnapped Chaldean Catholic archbishop. "His beautiful testimony of faith to Christ, the Church and his people that he did not want to abandon despite numerous threats, pushes me to raise a strong and sorrowful cry: enough with the massacres, enough with the violence, enough with hatred in Iraq!" he said.
Speaking to thousands of pilgrims clutching palm fronds and olive branches -- symbols of peace -- in St. Peter's Square, the Pope called on Iraqis to "raise their heads" and rebuild their nation with reconciliation, forgiveness and justice.
Rahho, 65, was kidnapped during a shootout in which three of his companions were killed, as he returned home after mass in Mosul on February 29. The killers later telephoned church authorities on Thursday to announce where the archbishop’s body could be found. The body of the Bishop was recovered from a shallow grave within a garbage dump area further inflaming passions
Along with the Pope the Chaldean Patriarch urged Iraq to resolve peace in their hearts. Hundreds gathered at the church in the village of Kramleis, just north of Mosul, to memorialize the highest-ranking Christian cleric to be targeted by Islamic fanatics since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq five years ago.
Mourners threw flowers on Rahho's simple wooden coffin and women wailed as his body passed down the central aisle of the small church in the village, where other Christian victims of Mosul's strife have been buried.
Christians remembered Bishop Rahho for having continued to give hope to their dwindling numbers. In June, the archbishop's confidant, Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, was shot dead along with three deacons outside the Church of the Holy Spirit, where Rahho was kidnapped last month.
The rise in violence against Christians and the apathetic response by local authorities have left many Christians doubting the sincerity of the Iraqi’s government pledge to protect minorities. Continual complaints of armed robberies, home invasions, assault and rape have landed on deaf ears of the local authorities. A large number of Christian families have fled Mosul in the last two months after armed Islamic groups left notes by their houses telling them to pay a religious tax or be killed.
Yonadam Kanna, a Christian in Iraq's parliament, criticized the government for failing to protect his community. He noted there was an Iraqi army checkpoint only three hundred yards from the church where Rahho was abducted.
"How is it possible that in broad daylight four cars could attack and kidnap such a high-ranking clergyman?" Kanna asked. "We blame the local authorities. They have never taken serious steps to take care of such high-ranking clergy."
Nabil Kashat, an advisor to the Chaldean Charity Assn had lunch with Rahho as part of a small group a week before his abduction. "He was encouraging Christians to stay in Mosul. He was pushing for tolerance among all factions. His loss is a big loss for all the Christians and Muslims of Mosul. It is a real shock for everyone. The Christians of Mosul will not be in a good position to believe that the city is safe for them," Kashat said.
A woman from Mosul, who identified herself as Rayat, said by phone that Rahho's death was the last straw for her. "After our holy man was killed, I don't want to stay in Mosul. Our good men are gone. When there are holy days, where will we go now?" she said.
Rayat, a schoolteacher, said her husband and two children now planned to move to northern Nineveh province, which is under the control of Kurdish security forces. She said she knew four
At the funeral, religious leaders tried to calm the beleaguered community. "I ask the people of the church to be steadfast and patient," Iraq's Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, told mourners, his voice choking. "He became a martyr because of his great faith, and his love for his service."
Pictures provided by www.Ankawa.com, a leading information outlet for the Christian community in Iraq and around the world.