Mosul (AsiaNews) – Anger, fear and frustrations are the most common feelings expressed by Mosul Christians after the body of Mgr Faraj Rahho was found yesterday after 14 days in the hands of his kidnappers. No group has so far claimed responsibility for his abduction and subsequent murder but Iraqi police are convinced that al-Qaeda is behind it. In the meantime today, thousands of ordinary people as well as political and religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, attended the prelate’s funeral in Karamles. It was celebrated by the Chaldean Patriarch, Card Emmanuel III Delly.
AsiaNews spoke to some of the archbishop’s parishioners still living in this Sunni stronghold. Fadia said: “For us he was the last hope. The fact is that, despite threats and dangers, his standing by us gave us the courage to continue. I don’t know what’s in store for us. I don’t know where we’ll find the strength.”
“The thing about him that was impressed on my mind was his smile,” added Bassam. “Even though he was sick and in danger, he still toured parishes to celebrate Mass and bear witness to show his friendship and faith. Now I am concerned that by striking at him they have tried to strike at the head of our Church in this city.”
General Khaled Abdul Sattar, spokesman for the Iraqi police in Nineveh province, said today that the bishop’s death was the work of al-Qaeda.
Sources close to those involved in the negotiations told AsiaNews that a few days after the abduction they realised that they were dealing with terrorists out to get “money to fund jihad and drive Christians from the country.”
“As days went by, the bishop’s release was never literally mentioned in the phone conversations,” the anonymous sources said. “All they wanted was millions of dollars, weapons and men. They wanted their prisoners freed, but never mentioned him.”
“They did more than that even. In-between insults and the threats, they accused us Christians of not taking sides, of not contributing to Iraq’s liberation. They told us that our presence in the country was worthless; that we were not taking sides or fighting; that for us there was no place here anymore.”
This corroborates what happened in other cases of abduction of priests, namely that the kidnapping industry is not merely about money but is also moved by sectarian considerations.
Monsignor Rahho himself had spoken about a plan to rid the country of its Christians, a plan that was clearly being applied in Mosul since the city is split long confessional lines.
US President George W. Bush yesterday condemned the bishop’s murder. But many young people in Mosul are asking: “Where are the Americans and our government? Where were they when Mgr Rahho was abducted? For a month since the offensive to clean up the city was announced, we see helicopters fly over the city, but by and large there is nothing new happening. Fundamentalism is still running things and the city is beyond the authorities’ control.”
Mgr Rahho was archbishop of Mosul for the past seven years. He was not only a point of reference for the city’s small Chaldean community but also a symbol of dialogue with Muslims.
“He had a lot of friends among Muslim leaders and was directly involved in promoting peaceful co-existence,” said a Mosul man.
He had launched important initiatives which over time had become symbols of ecumenism; one example is the ‘Charity and Joy Brotherhood’ for the disabled. Set up in the St Paul parish in 1986, it spread to the rest of the country involving Catholic churches as well as others.
Today in Iraq Christians from all denominations are mourning the bishop as are doing Muslim religious leaders. Chaldeans in the Diaspora, in Syria for example, are also under shock.
“It is as if a bomb exploded near us. I don’t know if we can get over it this time,” said Farred from Mosul, in Damascus for the past six months.
“My family is still there, but I hope they can get out. I can’t see any future for our community in today’s Iraq.”
Tomorrow in the Syrian capital the Chaldean community will meet in prayer, and the Chaldean archbishop of Aleppo, Mgr Antoine Audo, will celebrate Mass in the Church of St Theresa.