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Faced Deadly Threats With Courage

ICC Note

Archbishop Paulos Faraji Rahho was kidnapped in Iraq and later found dead in March 2008. This article talks about the faith and courage of the archbishop.

By Anthony O’Mahony

April 2, 2008 Iraq ( – The death of kidnapped Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, leader of the Chaldean Catholic church in northern Iraq , will only deepen the insecurity felt by Iraq ‘s Christian community, who increasingly see no future in the country.

The targeting of Christian intellectuals, professionals and priests — and the bombing of churches — has been seen as an attempt to destabilise the community and encourage its exodus from Iraq . Along with Baghdad , Mosul has been a centre of this violence. On the eve of the Chaldean church synod last June, an armed group killed Father Ragheed Ganni and three deacons in front of the church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul .

Rahho was born near Mosul into a Chaldean Catholic family with its roots in the ancient church of the east. In 1954 he entered St Peter’s junior seminary in Baghdad , aged 12, graduated to the major seminary at 18, and was ordained a priest in 1965. Chaldean Catholic priests, as with most Eastern rite Catholic churches, can be married, but he did not choose this option. The episcopate, as with all of Eastern Christianity, is chosen from celibate clergy or monks.

Apart from a brief spell as a parish priest in Baghdad , and further study in 1977 at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican university in Rome , Rahho spent his career as a local pastor to his community of about 20,000 Christians in Mosul . He built the church of the Sacred Heart in the district of Telkif, and the bishop’s residence, and opened an orphanage for children with disabilities. He was ordained archbishop in 2001.

A warm, humble and compassionate man, he was famous for his jokes, but time and again demonstrated his courage in defence of his flock when he faced down harassment and threats. In August 2004, he was frogmarched out of his official residence and forced to watch as the building was set ablaze. On another occasion, he was accosted by gunmen in the street, but walked on, daring them to shoot him.

Even while imprisoned in the boot of his kidnappers’ car just before he died, he managed to use his mobile phone to call his church and instruct officials not to pay a ransom.

As well as working with other Christian leaders to show unity in the face of rising Islamic terrorism, he sought to forge good relations with local Muslims. After his residence was burned down, a local imam offered him accommodation at a mosque complex.

Rahho often talked about the dilemmas facing Christians being pressured to leave, convert to Islam or stay and pay the jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. “We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine , persecution ended only for Western Christians, whereas in the East threats continued. Even today we continue to be a church of martyrs.”

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