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News Alert: Pope Concerned About New Church Attacks in Iraq ; Several Injured

ICC Note

“Deeply concerned to learn of the attacks on Christian targets in Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk which took place last Sunday and yesterday, the Holy Father expresses his spiritual closeness to the injured and their families and to the superiors of the religious communities affected by these attacks,”

Thursday, 10 January 2008 Iraq (BosNewsLife) — Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, January 10, expressed “deep concern” about the situation of Christians in Iraq , a day after two car bombs exploded outside two churches in the city of Kirkuk , the latest in a wave of attacks on Christian targets this week.

Police said three people were injured in Wednesday’s attacks on churches in central and northern Kirkuk , a volatile multi-ethnic oil-producing city 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the capital Baghdad . The attacks, within two minutes of each other, also caused damage to buildings, cars and surrounding houses, Kirkuk Police Chief Burhan Habib Tayib told reporters.

The first car bomb exploded outside the Cathedral of Kirkuk, a Chaldean Christian building in the center of the city at 1340 UTC. It was followed two minutes later by a car bomb attack outside the Assyrian Christian Maar Afram church, about a kilometre (less than a mile) away, police said.

Wednesday’s blasts came just days after Mosul ‘s Chaldean Archbishop Farac Raho confirmed that three churches and a monastery in his northern Iraqi hometown had been targeted Sunday, January 6, by militants using car bombs and other explosive devices. In addittion, a Roman Orthodox Church in Baghdad ‘s eastern part was hit by a mortar attack while a monastery in the Zafaraniyah neighborhood in the south was reportedly also targeted. Up to six people were injured in Sunday’s violence, including two guards, news reports said.

Separate Incident

In a separate incident Wednesday, January 9, the US military said six American soldiers were killed in a booby-trapped house during a new operation in northern Iraq against insurgents.

The situation is closely monitored by the Vatican and other countries, BosNewsLife learned. Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Emmanuel Delly III received a telegram Thursday, January 10, signed on behalf of the pope by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, expressing concern about the situation of Iraqi Christians. Delly, 80, became the first Chaldean Catholic to be made a cardinal last November, seen as a sign of Vatican solidarity with Iraq ‘s Christians.

“Deeply concerned to learn of the attacks on Christian targets in Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk which took place last Sunday and yesterday, the Holy Father expresses his spiritual closeness to the injured and their families and to the superiors of the religious communities affected by these attacks,” the telegram said. “The Pope also renews his sentiments of sincere solidarity with all members of the Christian communities in Iraq , Catholic and non-Catholic alike.”

Pope Invited

Earlier this week, the Vatican ‘s envoy, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri el Maliki, who extended an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit the country, Catholic sources said. It was not immediately clear when and if that visit happens.

In the Netherlands , Dutch parliamentarians urged the government to pressure Iraq through international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Iraq ‘s Christians made up about three percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of 27 million when the United States-led invasion began in 2003. However many have since fled the country after being forced from their homes. In addition several Church leaders and other believers were kidnapped or killed in Iraq . At least 151,000 people have died in the Iraqi conflict, according to the World Health Organization.