DAVID EADE PREVIEWS BENEDICT XVI’S CHALLENGING TRIP TO SPAIN THIS WEEKEND PAGE 8
November 5 2010 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Church in mourning after dozens are murdered at Mass in Baghdad
BY ED WEST
AT LEAST 58 people were killed and more than 70 injured at a Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday in the worst terrorist atrocity against Iraq’s Christians since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The Pope condemned the “savage” act of “absurd violence”, and urged international authorities and all people of good will to work together to end the “heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East”. But many of Iraq’s faithful now openly say they are being driven to extinction while the West looks on.
At least 30 worshippers were among the dead, as well as seven soldiers and eight terrorists, several of whom blew themselves up after security forces stormed Our Lady of Salvation church in the Iraqi capital on Sunday evening.
Residents of Karada, a middleclass district of the city, initially heard a loud explosion around 5pm on Sunday, followed by gunfire, as gunmen trying to storm the church were confronted by security guards protecting the Baghdad stock exchange building. After killing the guards, the terrorists threw hand grenades into the church, where an estimated 100 faithful were attending evening Mass.
One 18-year-old survivor said the terrorists, who were wearing explosive vests, shot one of the priests as they began the attack.
“They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms,” he said: “They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest.”
The witness, who declined to give his name, said worshippers were beaten and herded into an inner hall.
The local television station, alBaghdadiya, said it had received a phone call from a man claiming to be one of the attackers, who said they belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant umbrella group which includes al-Qaeda in Iraq. Reports said the attackers were not Iraqis, but foreign Arabs.
The militants later made contact with the authorities by mobile phone, demanding the release of al-Qaeda prisoners and a number of Christian-born Muslim converts they claimed were being held prisoner by the Coptic Church in Egypt.
The Islamic State of Iraq
Nuns and bystanders are seen outside Our Lady of Deliverance church in Baghdad on the morning after the massacre AP Photo/Hadi Mizban claimed responsibility for the attack on “the dirty place of the infidel which Iraqi Christians have long used as a base to fight Islam”, and said in a statement on radical Islamic websites that it was an action against the Church in Egypt.
The terrorists threatened to blow up the church if military forces attempted to end the siege, while Iraqi security forces ringed the church and US military flew overhead in helicopters. After a standoff that lasted several hours, Iraqi forces stormed the church. The gunmen reportedly threw grenades and detonated their suicide vests.
One of the hostages, Dr Thanaa Nassir, afterwards described the scene. He said: “I was lying on the floor and every now and then there would be an explosion or gunshots over our heads, over the lights, over the fixtures, over the Crucifix, over the Madonna, everywhere. After that, they started to say ‘Allahu akbar’[God is great], and they blew themselves up.
“I was lying underneath a table with a friend. The people beside me were killed. One of the priests was killed in front of me. He died in my arms. I lay there on the floor, covering my ears because I could not bear the sound of the bombs and shooting. Then the Iraqi soldiers reached us, using a laser light, and they took the hostages out.
“I do not think I and other Christians can stay in Iraq any longer.”
The dead priests were named as Fr Wasim Sabieh and Fr Thaier
OUR COMMENT It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the attack was part of a broader effort to drive Christianity from the Middle East Editorial Comment: Page 13
Saad Abdal, killed during the attack, and Fr Qatin, who later died in hospital.
Abdul-Qadr al-Obeidi, the Iraqi defence minister, said: “It was impossible to wait – the terrorists were planning to kill a large number of our brothers, the Christians who were at Mass. So the operation was successfully done.All terrorists were killed. And we now have other suspects in detention.”
On Tuesday a senior Baghdad policeman was also arrested in connection with the attack.
The Pope was quick to express his solidarity with the Iraqi faithful, telling pilgrims in St Peter’s Square on Monday, the feast ofAll Saints: “I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, which is even more savage because it struck defenceless people, gathered in God’s house, which is a house of love and reconciliation.”
He expressed his closeness to Iraqi Christians, and encouraged the nation’s priests and lay faithful
“to be strong and steady in hope”.
The attack came just a week after Iraqi bishops had participated in the Synod of Bishops with the Holy Father at the Vatican, which focused on the situation of Christians in the Middle East. At least one bishop raised the question of systematic attacks as part of a “plan” to drive all Christians from the Middle East.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan criticised the lack of security for Christian places of worship and the West’s lack of interest.
He said: “Christians are slaughtered in Iraq, in their homes and churches, and the so-called ‘free’ world is watching in complete indifference, interested only in responding in a way that is politically correct and economically opportune, but in reality is hypocritical.”
He demanded “that the US Congress, the United Nations, the International Commission for Civil Rights and the League of Arabic States” condemn the attack and “take the appropriate action to defend innocent Christians brutally singled out because of their religion, in Iraq and some other Middle Eastern countries”.
Our Lady of Salvation and four other churches were the target of a string of bombings inAugust 2004 which left 15 people dead. Sixtysix churches have been attacked in six years and hundreds of Christians have been murdered.
Before the US-led invasion the Iraqi Christian population, mostly Assyrian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic, was estimated at one million, but is now thought to be below 400,000, as the faithful have fled abroad.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need, said: “The Iraqi Christian communities have almost been destroyed in recent years. We are committed to standing by our brothers and sisters in Christ. It has been frustrating over the years saying that Christians have been targeted and people do not believe it. This highlights the risk of living as Christians. There is ignorance in the West of the ancient Christian presence. As Christians we should show solidarity with them and encourage our Government to do something. The Christian community is haemorrhaging and we should support them in this terrible polarised society.”
Baghdad Latin Rite Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni said that the country’s Christian community felt gravely threatened.
“This attack will have a very negative influence on those who until now had chosen to remain in Baghdad with many saying they are ready to leave,” he said.
Alistair Burt MP, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, condemned the attacks and “urged the Iraqi authorities to do all they can to bring to justice those who are responsible for this attack on innocent worshippers”.
Baroness Cox, who has campaigned on behalf of persecuted minorities, said: “The implications are horrific. It’s clearly an attempt the purge the country of Christians.”
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Pope Benedict to take the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela
BY CAROL GLATZ IN ROME
POPE BENEDICT XVI will follow some of the traditional rituals that pilgrims engage in when visiting the pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela during his visit to Spain this weekend.
It will be his first time in the ancient pilgrimage city and in Barcelona where he will consecrate the partially completed Church of the Sagrada Familia.
“He’s very happy to go [to
Compostela] because it’s something he has wanted very much,” said papal spokesman Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi.
Before becoming Pope, “he and his brother also once talked about them going together, but it never happened”, said Fr Lombardi.
Though he will not have walked the miles of roadsides and pathways other Compostela pilgrims travel when going on foot or by horse, the Pope will still carry out some of the traditional pilgrimage rituals at the cathedral. He will walk through the cathedral’s holy door, which was opened at the start of the year. The feast of St James, July 25, fell on a Sunday this year, making 2010 a holy year.
Tradition holds that the remains of the Apostle St James the Greater – called Santiago in Spanish – are buried in the city’s cathedral. The Pope will pray at theApostle’s tomb and embrace a statue of St James, another pilgrim tradition.
Finally, the Pope will cense the cathedral using a giant burner hanging from a rope.
The burner is called a botafumeiro in Galician, the Spanish dialect spoken in Santiago de Compostela, and it means “smoke thrower”. In medieval times, its function was not just liturgical. It was also filled with perfumes to deodorise the smells from the hordes of sweating and unwashed pilgrims who went to the cathedral after days on the road.
Feature: Page 8
Dinosaur’s skull is found in altar rail
Ann takes time out to speak at pro-life event
BY ANNA ARCO
A FOSSILISED dinosaur’s skull has been discovered embedded in a cathedral near Milan.
A crocodile-shaped skull was found fossilised in the pink rock of a Communion rail in the Cathedral of StAmbrose in Vigevano, a town 20 miles from the city.
It might have remained unnoticed if it had not been for Andrea Tintori, a palaeontologist from the University of Milan.
He told La Repubblica that the discovery of the dinosaur head was extremely interesting because such fossils were very rare and in Italy in this type of rock, known as “Broccatello d’Arzo”, the fossil is unique. “At first I thought that it might be a ichthyosaur [a large marine reptile] but now I am convinced that it could be a dinosaur,” said Mr Tintori.
Teeth and nasal lobes can be seen in one part of the rail while another segment of the skull can be observed on the other side of the balustrade.
BY ED WEST
FRESH from entertaining the nation in Strictly Come Dancing, Ann Widdecombe will speak at the Right to Life dinner.
Miss Widdecombe will speak at the event in London on November 25, along with Labour MP Jim Dobbin and the Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh.
The former Conservative MP survived another round of the show last weekend after a spectacular paso doble with dance partner Anton Du Beke.
She will talk at the event about the challenges facing the pro-life movement in Europe, where some Euro-
pean Socialists have advocated action against hospitals re-
People wishing to buy tickets, priced £50,
should email justinhinchcliffe@ hotmail.com.
DON’T MISS: WHY DO CATHOLICS BECOME MUSLIMS? PAGE 9