L’Osservatore Romano has this afternoon published a message from Pope Benedict XVI to Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Syriac-Catholic archbishop of Baghdad.
The message was sent to coincide with the funerals today of the victims of the terrorist atrocity on Sunday against the Syriac-Catholic community in the Iraqi capital.
According to the latest reports, the attack in the church of Our Lady of Deliverance resulted in 58 deaths, including women and children and two priests. Eighty were injured.
The Pope writes (my translation):
Deeply moved by the violent deaths of so many faithful and of the reverend priests Tha’ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I wish, on the occasion of the Sacred Rite of funerals, to participate spiritually, while praying that these brothers and sisters be accepted into the mercy of Christ in the House of the Father.
For years this beloved country has suffered untold hardships and even Christians have become the subject of brutal attacks that, in total disregard of life, an inviolable gift from God, want to undermine trust and peaceful coexistence.
I renew my appeal that the sacrifice of these, our brothers and sisters, can be seeds of peace and a true rebirth, so that those who care about reconciliation, solidarity and fraternal coexistence, find motivation and strength to do good.
To all of you, dear brothers and sons, I offer my apostolic blessing, which I willingly extend to the injured and to your families so sorely tried.
The Pope sent an earlier message deploring the attack, at the Angelus on the Feast of All Saints yesterday.
Below is a summary of Archbishop Matoka’s intervention at the Synod on the Middle East which took place in Rome last month:
Iraq, land of Mesopotamia, land of civilizations, where Abraham was born, where Ur, Babel, and Niniveh are, land of holy scripture, land of faith and of martyrs… Since Christianity spread there, realized despite the persecution by the Persians throughout the centuries , the blood of martyrs flowed and the Islamic influence covered it.
Today and since the Revolution of Abd el Karim Kassem, Iraq does not cease living a situation of instability of trials and wars. The last being the American occupation. Christians have always had their part in the sacrifices and tribulations: with the martyrs in the wars and all sorts of different hardships.
Since the year 2003, Christians are the victims of a killing situation, which has provoked a great emigration from Iraq. Even if there are no definite statistics, the indicators underline that half the Christians have abandoned Iraq and that without a doubt there are only about 400,000 Christians left of the 800,000 that lived there. The invasion of Iraq by America and its allies brought to Iraq in general, and especially to its Christians, destruction and ruin on all levels. Churches were blown up, bishops and priests and lay persons were massacred, many were the victims of aggression. Doctors and businessmen were kidnapped, others were threatened, storage places and homes were pillaged…
Perhaps the acuity with which Christianity was targeted has been lightened during the last two years, but there still is the fear of the unknown, insecurity and instability, as well as the continuation of emigration, which always makes this question arise: what is the future of Christian existence in this country should this situation continue, more so because the civil authorities are so weak. The tears are continuous between the different religious and political composing elements, as well as external influence by external powers, especially neighboring countries.
Seven years have passed and Christianity is still bleeding. Where is the world conscience? All the world remains a spectator before what is happening in Iraq, especially with regards to Christians.
We want to sound the alarm. We ask the question of the great powers: is it true what is said that there is a plan to empty the Middle East of Christians and that Iraq is one of the victims? I think this Synod should study this subject with attention and should see what can be decided in trying to reach a solution to the situation existing in the Middle East.