“Stop the massacres, the violence, the hatred in Iraq,” the pontiff said during his weekly Angelus blessing to the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square as Catholics celebrated Palm Sunday and the start of holy week leading to Easter Sunday.
With the fifth anniversary this month of the US-led invasion of Iraq and the ensuing insurgency, the pope spoke of the Iraqi people “who for five years have faced the consequences of a war which has provoked the disintegration of civil and religious life,” he said, urging the Iraqis to reconstruct their country.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church also remembered Paulos Faraj Rahho, 65, an archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic sect in Iraq who was kidnapped two weeks ago and whose body was found Thursday in the outskirts of Mosul, about 370 kilometres (230 miles) north of Baghdad.
“He was an example of a beautiful dedication to Christ, the Church and his people who, despite numerous threats, he would not abandon,” said the pope.
Rahho, 65, was kidnapped during a shootout in which three of his companions were killed, as he returned home after mass in Mosul on February 29.
His kidnappers telephoned church authorities on Thursday to announce that the archbishop had died and that they had buried him. His body was later exhumed and it was not yet known whether he died from natural causes or was killed as there were no bullet wounds to his body.
The US embassy in Baghdad and the American military blamed Al-Qaeda for the archbishop’s death.
Iraq’s Christians, with the Chaldean sect by far the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the 2003 invasion.
Associated with the “Crusader” invaders and regarded as well-off, they are now victims of sectarian cleansing, killings and kidnappings at the hands of both Sunni and Shiite Islamist extremists, as well as criminal gangs.