The Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, seized by gunmen on 29 February in Iraq, has been found dead. The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, 65, was found in a shallow grave close to the city. It is believed he could have been killed up to a week ago. Pope Benedict has sent a telegram to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq, offering his condolences. In his telegram the Pope expresses his closeness "to the Chaldean Church and to the entire Christian community", reaffirming his "condemnation for an act of inhuman violence which offends the dignity of human beings and seriously damages the cause of the fraternal coexistence of the beloved Iraqi people". Benedict XVI gives assurances of his prayers for the archbishop "who was kidnapped just after he had completed the Way of the Cross" and invokes the Lord's mercy "that this tragic event may serve to build a future of peace in the martyred land of Iraq". Holy See Press Office Director Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said today: "We had all continued to hope and pray for his release, something the Pope had requested on a number of occasions in his appeals. Unfortunately the most senseless and unjustified violence continues to be inflicted on the Iraqi people, and especially on the small Christian community to which the Pope and all of us are particularly close in prayer and solidarity at this moment of great suffering. "It is to be hoped that this tragic event may once more - and more powerfully - underline the responsibility of everyone, and especially of the international community, for the pacification of so troubled a country". Bishop Crispian Hollis, Chair of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Department of International Affairs said: "It is with great sadness that I have just learnt of the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, whose body was discovered earlier today. I join with all those in Iraq and elsewhere who mourn for the Archbishop. Archbishop Rahho's abduction and death represents the latest blow against a Christian community that is undergoing an ordeal by persecution and my prayers and thoughts are with Iraq's Christians, particularly in Mosul, as they struggle to live in faith." The news of Archbishop Rahho's death could force the Church underground, say Iraqi Christians in Need (ICIN). ICIN spokesperson Dr Suha Rassam said: "The killing of Archbishop Rahho is shocking. Christians will now be even more in fear of their lives from Islamic fundamentalists. "The only way for the Church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the first and second centuries. This way, Mass and other services would be held in secret and priests go about their duties clandestinely. "Over the last eight months, attacks on Christians have been escalating. In June, Father Ragheed Gani and three deacons were murdered, two priests were kidnapped in October, and in January four churches and a convent were bombed. "When Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped nearly two weeks ago his driver and two companions were shot dead. Now, he has been killed. "This is not a situation anyone would want, but the Christian population is living each day in terror of being kidnapped or murdered. When the Church is facing persecution of this magnitude, then desperate measures might have to be taken." Source: VIS/ICIN
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