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Chaldean Priest Feared “Kidnapped” In Iraq , Search Underway

22 November 2006

BosNewsLife News

34-year-old Doglas Yousef Al-Bazy , who leads the Mar Eliya Church or.’St. Elijah Church’ has been missing since Sunday, November 19, Christians said.

His mobile phones were reportedly are disconnected in the Chaldean Patriarchate did not hear from him since he left the church by car without an escort, the church said in statements monitored by BosNewsLife.

Al-Bazy was believed to be at least the fifth church leader to have been kidnapped in Iraq in as many months. While most of them were later released, the beheaded and dismembered body of kidnapped priest Paulos Iskander, or Paul Alexander in English from the Syriac Orthodox Church was found last month in the northern city of Mosul .

INCREASED FEAR

His death increased fear within the Christian community, who are calling for international assistance to help them leave the country. In recent days an Assyrian Church of the East priest from Mosul ’s St. Mary Church was reportedly forced to flee to the Kurdish region because he was unable to continue paying the forced donations to militants.

Some Christians have been forced to pay up to $20,000 to be released by kidnappers or just to be able to stay alive, church sources say.

Al-Bazy too been the victim of violence several times and narrowly survived two attacks, Catholic news agencies said. In January he reportedly survived an attack against his parish church, in the north of Baghdad . A month later, he was wounded by a bullet in an attack by gunmen who fired against the church, local sources said.

The Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad , Shleman Warduni, said in published remarks that “Patriarch Delly and I have activated our contacts, hoping they would give us hope but so far we have had no replies. That he was kidnapped is a very likely hypothesis, but there is no confirmation as yet.”

ACTIVE PRIEST

Al-Bazy was ordained some 10 years ago and Warduni told AsiaNews agency that he was “very active in the diocese, committed especially to accompanying youth.”

He is secretary of the Institute for Religious Teaching and also of the Council of Church leaders in Baghdad . A few months ago, he was put in charge of St Elijah Church.

The Auxiliary Bishop said his kidnapping was not an isolated incident: “There are many theories about why Christians are kidnapped: crime, religious fanaticism, money, the intent to create division among the people. We hope that those who have taken him have a conscience and understand that we priests desire only to bring the Good News to people and to work for the good of all Iraqis.”

He said Christians still believe in “unity of Iraq and we ask to be able to work together with our co-nationals to rebuild our country and to attain peace and security.” Warduni appealed to the likely kidnappers. “If you have a conscience and believe in God, do not do him any ill and free him as soon as possible, safe and sound.”

FEWER CHRISTIANS

Violence and kidnappings have attributed to a dramatic fall in the number of Christians staying in Iraq , observers say.

The last Iraqi census in 1987 counted 1.4 million Christians, but many left during the 1990s when economic sanctions were imposed on the country.

According to the local Christians Peace Association (CPA), about 700,000 Christians remain in Iraq , making up about 3 percent of the population, but other sources say that number could be even lower.