Baghdad residents place national flags on the coffins of those who died during an attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral. CNS photos

VATICAN CITY – The world’s Christian leaders expressed outrage after an attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad left 58 people dead and 75 injured.

They also called on the international community and Iraqi officials to do more to protect Iraq’s Christian minority.

Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq, who concelebrated the funeral of some of the victims on Nov 2, said the UN needed to step in to protect the Catholic community.

“For our community it is a true human and religious catastrophe,” he told Vatican Radio on Nov 2.

“This will cause panic. We continue to hold out our hand for dialogue, to work together, to forget the past, to overcome our pain, but then ... we see that there is not an adequate response above all from [government] authorities.”

The archbishop said Iraqi political parties need to form a unity government.

“They need to make churches and Christian communities safe with laws and with a police presence until Christians can feel they can trust in their country and future again.”
Msgr Philip Najim, the Chaldean Catholic Church’s representative to the Vatican, told Vatican Radio the same day that the Oct 31 attack was especially barbaric because it took place inside a place of worship when people were praying.

Armed militants wearing explosives stormed the cathedral during evening Mass, held Massgoers hostage and threatened to blow up the church. After a standoff of several hours, Iraqi forces stormed the cathedral.

“The extremists were condemned by Muslims [who believe in an] Islam that knows God, that knows faith, that knows love and knows charity,” Msgr Najim said, adding that large numbers of Muslims lined up to donate blood for the victims.

In the United States, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said the US government – having invaded Iraq and later withdrawn all combat troops – “has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.”

“While we welcomed the end of US-led combat in Iraq, we share the Iraqi bishops’ concern that the United States failed to help Iraqis in finding the political will and concrete ways needed to protect the lives of all citizens, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities,” said the cardinal, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Christians in the Indian state of Kerala, who have close ties with the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, have strongly condemned the massacre.

“My heart is burning with pain and grief,” said Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat.

“Our brothers in faith have lost their country and have become the hunted in their own land.”

SMC is one of the two Oriental Catholic rites in India with liturgical patrimony from the Chaldean Catholic Church.

The priest also blamed the US for the present mess in Iraq. “They have to take full responsibility for this,” he said.

At the Vatican on Nov 1, Pope Benedict called the incident “savage” and urged international and national authorities to work together to end the “heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East”.

Residents take part in the Nov 2 funeral for victims of the attack which left 58 people dead. CNS photos

Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim meets with Cardinal Emmanuel Delly, Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, following the attack.

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