“Absurd violence”

Reactions in Europe to the attack on the Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad

58 dead, including 10 women and 8 children, 67 injured: that’s the dramatic toll of the attack conducted by armed militants of the group of the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda cell in Iraq, on the Syrian Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad on 31 October. While prayers were being said in the church, the terrorists penetrated the church, opening fire with automatic weapons and taking scores of laypeople and some priests as hostages. Those killed immediately were some guards outside the church, a young girl and two priests, Father Thair Sad-alla Abd-al and Father Waseem Sabeeh Al-Kas Butrous. The commando, in a telephone call to the television station “Al-Baghdadiya”, asked for the release of all prisoners of Al Qaeda in Iraq and in Egypt and gave a 48 hour ultimatum to the Coptic Church of Egypt to release the wives of two priests who, according to the terrorists, are being kept segregated in monasteries, since they had converted to Islam. A blitz of the Iraqi Special Forces put an end to the attack, but degenerated into a bloodbath.Benedict XVI. Never before had the anti-Christian violence in Iraq sunk to this level, not scrupling to open fire on defenceless people inside a church, during a liturgical service. Reactions to the outrage were not slow in coming: on 1st November, during his Angelus address, Benedict XVI said he was praying for “the victims of this absurd violence, all the more ferocious since it struck defenceless people, gathered in the house of God, which is the house of love and of reconciliation. I also express my affectionate solidarity with the Christian community [of Iraq], which has been struck once again, and encourage all pastors and faithful to be strong and steadfast in hope… I would like to renew my heartfelt appeal for peace: it is the gift of God, but it is also the result of the efforts of men of good will, and of the national and international institutions. May all unite their forces so that all violence may end!”.French and German bishops. “Consternation and deep sadness” for the attack on the Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad were also expressed by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris and Chairman of the French Episcopal Conference (CEF), in a letter sent on 2 November to Mgr. Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, Archbishop of Babilonia of the Syrians. “In these dramatic hours in which the Christian community in Iraq has once again been struck by unjust and fanatical violence – writes Cardinal Vingt-Trois -, I would like to express my solidarity and that of all Catholics of France with you and all Christians in Iraq”. Assuring his own prayer and that of French Catholics “for the victims, their families, the injured and for all those who suffer violence in the country”, the Chairman of the CEF also expresses the hope that “the Lord may receive the dead in peace and in light, give strength and comfort to the bereaved” and “support the peacemakers and promoters of justice in this martyred land, so that they may never give way to discouragement”. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference (DBK), has reacted “with deep dismay” to the massacre of innocent Christians and declared on behalf of the DBK: “we are deeply shocked by this brutal aggression and pray for the dead and injured who had gathered peacefully in the church to celebrate mass. Our thoughts also go to their families and friends in mourning”. The Chairman of the DBK invited the faithful to pray for Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East: “Just a week ago, the Special Synod for the Middle East ended in the Vatican with an urgent appeal for peace in the region. The weapons of war must cease in Iraq and in the Middle East. I ask Christians in Germany to pray for the victims of Baghdad and for peace in Iraq”, continued Zollitsch, asking the international community – the USA in particular – and the Iraqi authorities “to be firm in countering the constant threat against Christianity in Iraq”. Mgr. Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), has expressed his “horror” at the massacre: “it has taken a terrible toll on a vulnerable and diminishing Christian community that, along with other religious minorities, continues to suffer persecution”. “My thoughts and prayers – reads the statement – are with all those Iraqis who struggle against violence and extremism”.World Council of Churches (WCC). Firm condemnation of the “criminal act of terror” has also come from the World Council of Churches (WCC), which has expressed “deep sympathy and solidarity with all those who have lost their own loved ones”. WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit, speaking from the platform of the International Islamo-Christian Conference in Geneva, said that “the WCC is deeply troubled by the continuous suffering of Christians in Iraq. It continues to stand in solidarity with all churches that are going through turbulent and challenging times and never ceases to testify to the love and peace of God in Jesus Christ also in the midst of hatred and aggression. It’s not the first time – continued Tveit – that these attacks have targeted Christian communities in Iraq. The perpetrators must be brought to justice, and the government authorities ought to bear responsibility for ensuring security to all citizens, and in particular those who live in situations of vulnerability”.

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