Baghdad (AsiaNews) - There is a climate of "great fear" in the Iraqi Christian community in Baghdad, where the funeral was held yesterday for the Assyrian Orthodox priest, Youssef Adel, killed in cold blood last April 5 in the capital. The funeral, in the church of Saints Peter and Paul in the neighbourhood of Karrada, was celebrated by the Assyrian Orthodox archbishop of Baghdad and Basra, Saverius Jamil Hawa. Various members of the faithful and religious representatives from all the Christian denominations were present, including Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Assyrian Catholic bishop of the capital, the patriarch of the Chaldeans, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the apostolic nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt.
Youssef Adel, who was married but had no children, was about 40 years old and was the director of a mixed high school, attended by Christians and Muslims, young men and young women. He was assassinated by a group of unknown persons. In the past, he had received a number of death threats. Condemnation of the attack has been expressed by the Iraqi vice president, the Sunni Tareq al-Hashemi, and by the Assyrian Orthodox patriarch of Damascus. As soon as he heard the news, Benedict XVI expressed his profound sadness. In a telegram sent to Saverius Jamil Hawa, the pope "calls upon the Lord, that the Iraqi people may find the way of peace, in order to build a just and tolerant society".
The latest murder strikes at a community still in shock from the killing of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Faraj Rahho, found dead on March 13 after 14 days in captivity. Many Christians are fleeing in order to survive the persecution, and it is now said that only 400-500,000 faithful remain in the country. In 2003, the figure was around one million. But at the funeral of the priest yesterday, there were also some - cited by the international news agencies - who said they were determined to stay: "it is a question of faith".
Christian leaders have frequently denounced a plan to eliminate their millennia-old presence from Iraq. And some advance the hypothesis that the Shiites are carrying out a calculated strategy in the Middle East, as demonstrated by the clashes in Basra in recent days, and by the situation in Lebanon and Palestine. In the perspective of this plan for Shiite supremacy, Christians - who are equated with the West - must be driven out.