A Chaldean Catholic priest, Fr Ragheed, and three of his deacons, were murdered in the Iraqi city of Mosul on 3 June as they left the Church of the Holy Spirit after Sunday services.
Armed gunmen ambushed their car as they drove away and they were murdered in cold blood. The car was then rigged with explosives to discourage retrieval of the bodies and to serve as a message to the whole populace that Christianity was no longer being tolerated.
Before 2003, Iraq was home to a sizeable number of Christians, many of them members of the Catholic Chaldean rite. Some of these life-long citizens had even served as government officials, while many were to be found in the professions – as doctors, teachers and business leaders. However, since the US invasion in 2003, tens of thousands of Christians have fled their homeland and those who remain feel themselves to be in constant jeopardy.
The church where Fr Ragheed served had been bombed and vandalised in the recent past and the priest and some of his parishioners had received threats to their lives.
They had always been careful to remain aloof from the Sunni/Shiite conflict, but, because they were not followers of Islam, they had been targeted.
While most of the antipathy towards the Christians in Iraq has arisen from militant Islamists who want everyone to adopt their faith, much can be traced to the perception that the ‘Christian West’—namely the United States —has invaded and occupied their country.
Therefore all Christians have become blameworthy in the eyes of many.
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed deep sorrow at this tragedy and his heartfelt condolences go out to those affected by the death of this good priest and his deacons.
The Holy Father, acknowledging Fr Ragheed’s martyrdom for a free Iraq, urges prayer world-wide that this ‘costly sacrifice will inspire a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence’.