Pope Prays for Conversion of Hearts in Iraq


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(14 Jul 09 - RV) Violence has returned to attack the Christian Churches in Iraq. In a series of attacks, carried out between Saturday and Sunday in Baghdad, four people died and a further thirty-two were injured, some seriously.

The most serious incident took place Sunday afternoon near the Chaldean church of Notre-Dame, in eastern Baghdad.

On Sunday, bombs were also detonated in front of other Christian churches in the capital, injuring of at least eleven people.

On Monday morning, in the centre of the city of Mosul (in the north), three children were injured by the explosion of a bomb placed between a church and a mosque.

In a message, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sent to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Pope Benedict XVI assures his prayer and his spiritual closeness to the Catholic and Orthodox communities of the Iraqi capital.

The Pope - reads the message - 'Prays for a conversion of heart of the perpetrators of violence and encourages the authorities to do everything they can to promote a just and peaceful coexistence of all sectors of the Iraqi people. "

This series of attacks comes less than two weeks after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the cities of the country. The incidence of violence in recent months had seen a significant decrease but attacks are a daily tragedy, especially in Baghdad, in Mosul and Kirkuk, where there is still a large Christian concentration.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime the Christian communities of Iraq have been targeted in a number of large attacks. The most serious took place in August 2004, with four attacks in Baghdad and two in Mosul: there were ten dead and fifty injured. On 16 October of that year, within the space of two hours, five places of worship in Baghdad were targeted in coordinated bombings.

Before the U.S. led invasion of April 2003, it is estimated there were about eight hundred thousand Christians, scattered throughout the country. Today, according to various estimates, there are about five hundred thousand. Many of them, to escape persecution, have been forced to leave Iraq.

A city that has become a symbol of this anti-Christian persecution is Mosul, where the young priest Fr Rgheed Ghani was shot dead along with three deacons in 2007 as they emerged from celebrating mass and one year later their Archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped by a criminal gang only to be found dead weeks later, his body abandoned in a rubbish tip.

Last year there were thousands of Christian families forced to leave Mosul. An escape for which Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly expressed "alarm and great suffering."

During his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Pope called for the recognition of 'fundamental rights to peaceful coexistence "of Christians in Iraq.