Pope condemns church attacks in Iraq (Extra)

Vatican City – Pope Benedict XVI condemned the latest attacks against Christians in Iraq and urged the country’s authorities to increase efforts to ‘promote peace’ between the various religious communities, the Vatican’s newspaper reported Monday.

Benedict made the appeal in a message to the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the daily L’Osservatore Romano said.

The pontiff was referring to Sunday night’s attack on a church in eastern Baghdad that left at least four dead and 18 injured as well as several other bombings targeting churches in the city.

Benedict offered condolences for the dead in the church bombing and his ‘spiritual closeness’ to the Iraqi capital’s Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities, while praying for the ‘a conversion in the hearts of those responsible for the violence.’

The Vatican newspaper noted how under Saddam Hussein’s regime which was toppled in a 2003 US-led invasion, ‘Christians enjoyed security and relative freedom.’

It also noted that before the invasion some 800,000 Christians lived in the country, while according to ‘various estimates’ the number currently stands at around 500,000 with many having fled abroad.

Also on Sunday, an Iraqi Christian official, Aziz Rozko Hanna, director of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk’s Department of Financial Control, was assassinated. Gunmen pulled him from his car and shot him dead while his daughter looked on.