Iraq: Christians flee Mosul as killings escalate

church in Mosul - Picture: ICIN

church in Mosul - Picture: ICIN

Three Christians in Mosul were murdered in their home by unknown assailants on Tuesday. The victims were the father and two brothers of a  Syro-Catholic priest,  Fr  Mazen Ishoa, who was himself abducted and later released in October 2007.

More than 20 Christians have been killed in the city in recent weeks.

Describing the situation as increasingly desperate, Fr Nizar Semaan, Syrian Catholic Chaplain in London, told ICN last night: "There is a complete breakdown in law and order. The government and police are doing nothing. Christians are fleeing the city and going into the villages. There it isn't completely safe, but  they have a little more security."

Fr Semaan said there use to be 50,000 Christians in Mosul, with more than 20 churches, but many now have gone.  In the run-up to the elections, he said he feared there could be more violence.

He said: "This week 3,000 Christian  university students have stayed home because they have been told they will be targeted. Parents have kept children home from school. Many have not gone to work. Next Sunday, all the churches will be closed. There will be no Mass. People will hold a silent protest. "

Yesterday  the Vatican reported that the Holy Father reacted with "deep sorrow" upon hearing the news of the most recent killings of Christians in Iraq, which reached him while he was on his annual Lenten retreat.

On 2 January, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone wrote  a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamil Mohammed al-Maliki calling for a "moral and civil reconstruction" of the nation through "dialogue and cooperation between ethnic and religious groups... including minorities."

He expressed his hope that this would happen in "full respect of the individual identities of those groups, in a spirit of reconciliation and in search of the common good."

Cardinal Bertone also reminded the Iraqi leader of how Pope Benedict had asked him at the Vatican in 2008 to ensure that the right to freedom of religion be respected and that Christians and their churches would be protected.

On this occasion, related the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister had provided his personal assurance that the Iraqi government "took the situation of the Christian minority very seriously."

The cardinal ended his letter by asking Nouri al-Maliki to "pray with fervour for an end to the violence" and to have the government do "everything possible to increase security around places of worship in the entire country."

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