11/20/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Baghdad: priest missing, feared kidnapped

There has been no news of Fr Doglas, Chaldean parish priest of St Elias Church, since yesterday morning. The Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad says it is "very likely" he has been kidnapped. Fears are growing that these criminal moves are aimed at striking more active religious figures in a bid to discourage Christians from remaining in Iraq.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Christians in Baghdad fear yet another priest has been kidnapped. Fr Doglas Yousef Al Bazy - 34 years, Chaldean – left his parish yesterday morning and has not yet returned home.

The alarm was raised swiftly throughout Iraq and the diaspora via the Internet and SMS: the young priest's community and leaders of Iraq's Chaldean Church believe it is "highly likely" that he has been kidnapped. If their misgivings are proved right, this would be the latest in a long list of kidnappings targeting Christian clerics. Not only gangs of common criminals are suspected to be behind the spate of kidnappings.

The Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, Mgr Shleman Warduni, told AsiaNews: "Patriarch Delly and I have activated our contacts, hoping they would give us hope but so far we have had no replies. That he was kidnapped is a very likely hypothesis, but there is no confirmation as yet."

Fr Doglas was ordained some 10 years ago. Mgr Warduni described him as a man who was "very active in the diocese, committed especially to accompanying youth." He is secretary of the Institute for Religious Teaching and also of the Council of Church leaders in Baghdad. A few months ago, he was put in charge of St Elias Parish.

The Auxiliary Bishop said: "There are many theories about why Christians are kidnapped: crime, religious fanaticism, money, the intent to create division among the people." He continued: "We hope that those who have taken him have a conscience and understand that we priests desire only to bring the Good News to people and to work for the good of all Iraqis. We are for the unity of Iraq and we ask to be able to work together with our co-nationals to rebuild our country and to attain peace and security." However, among the Chaldean community, the idea is increasingly taking hold that threats and kidnappings are not carried out indiscriminately, but that they "target those people who are most involved in the Christian community, the younger and more courageous ones, almost as if to give a warning to those who persist in hoping that they will be able to continue living in the country."

AsiaNews sources said the situation in the country has become "unbearable". Christians rarely leave their homes but they are not the only ones to suffer. They say: "No place is safe anymore. Even workplaces are no longer safe. In recent months, bakers have been killed in Baghdad just because they formed typical rhomboidal shaped loaves, in the vague semblance of a cross."

Finally, Mgr Warduni made an appeal to the likely kidnappers of Fr Doglas: "If you have a conscience and believe in God, do not do him any ill and free him as soon as possible, safe and sound."

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