church in Mosul (picture - ICIN)
More than 1,000 Christians, lead by priests and nuns, walked through the town of Hamdaniya, 40 km (25 miles) east of Mosul, on Sunday in an appeal to the government to protect them. Many of the silent protestors were praying and carrying olive branches. Marches were planned in a dozen other cities. One banner in Hamdaniya read: "The blood of the innocents screams for an end to the violence."
More than eight Christians have been killed in the last two weeks in Mosul. Those remaining live in fear of their lives. A UN report on Sunday said that 683 Christian families, or 4,098 people, fled Mosul between February 20 and 27 following the attacks. Iraqi Christians are among the oldest Christian communities in the world. Since the war, many thousands have been forced to leave.
The recent spate of killings have come murders just weeks before Iraq's 7 March parliamentary election.
Archbishop Georges Casmoussa, Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul said before the march: "The community is shocked and wants to draw the attention of the authorities who so far have done nothing to stop this killing. The march has no political or electoral motives, only religious ones. The Christians want to stay in Iraq and live their faith in peace."
The date of 28 February was particularly poignant, as it also marked the second anniversary of the kidnapping of Archbishop Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul who was abducted and killed and who will be remembered as a martyr of faith and dialogue.
There would be no Mass in Mosul on Sunday morning. Archbishop Casmoussa explained that the time would be "entirely devoted to an act of protest and silent prayer." He said: "The Eucharist will be celebrated in churches in the afternoon. We will be fasting and praying for peace and for the survival of Christians."
The Council of the Bishops of Nineveh published a document that was read in every church in Iraq, explaining the reasons for the protest.
"In this season of Lent, the people pray, fast, and celebrate the Way of the Cross with faith, imploring the protection of the Most High,” the Prelate said.
Addressing pilgrims in St Peter's Square on Sunday, Pope Benedict appealed to the civil authorities in Iraq to protect the Christian population there.