17 ottobre 2006

Orthodox Priest's Murder Haunts Iraqi Christians

Cleric Was Slain Before Ransom Could Be Raised

MOSUL, Iraq, OCT. 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Officials were still trying to raise ransom money for a kidnapped Syrian-Orthodox priest when his mutilated body was found in Iraq last week.

About 500 people attended the funeral of Father Paulos Eskandar at Mosul's Syrian-Orthodox Church of St. Ephrem, who was abducted and found beheaded.

The AsiaNews agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions reported that the relatives of the priest confirmed that the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of $350,000 and that his Church apologize for the Pope's Regensburg speech that touched on Islam.

Taken out of context and distorted by the media, Benedict XVI's address, during his recent visit to Germany, led to misunderstanding in Muslim circles.

The Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad condemned the murder of the Syrian-Orthodox priest and said that the kidnappers "had negotiated with the Church, but demanded an amount that was too high" for his release and could not be raised in time.

"For this reason they decapitated him," he lamented last Friday.

Father Eskander's decapitated body was found on Oct. 11 in Mosul's Muharaibin neighborhood. His arms showed signs of torture, confirmed AsiaNews. He had been kidnapped two days earlier. His funeral was held Thursday.

AsiaNews reported that Iraq's highest Sunni religious authority, the Ulema Council, called the priest's death a "cowardly murder."

The news agency quoted a statement of the Muslim organization: "The Ulema Council condemns this cowardly killing and will not forget those who are behind this crime, committed by people who want to deprive the country of every religious and national symbol that can hold Iraq together by trying to start a religious war between sons of the same nation."


On Oct. 12, Monsignor Philippe Najim, representative of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Baghdad to the Holy See, stressed on Vatican Radio that an "enormous ransom figure" had been demanded for the Syrian-Orthodox priest.

"And we were willing to talk about this with the kidnappers and give the sum requested," the monsignor said. "Despite this, we have found his body."

The murder, he added, has "terrified all Christians in Iraq, whether or not they are Catholics."

Monsignor Najim remembered Father Eskandar, who carried out his work in service of the Orthodox and Catholics as "a simple man, loved by everyone, who did no more than welcome people in his church to pray. … He had no political or any other kind of ties.

"He was a man of God, esteemed by Catholics and non-Catholics, also by Muslims, and gave his service to all."

Monsignor Najim added that the news has been confirmed that young Christian women are being kidnapped and abused in Iraq.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told AsiaNews: "In Baghdad and Mosul, Christians live in fear. Families don't know where to go. They are isolated, without any protection."

"Despite this situation, I exhort Christians, especially young people, to be patient and to stay, without letting themselves to be discouraged; to have patriotic and ecclesial responsibility, taking part in the political work to reconstruct the country, reinforce common life, promote the civilization of life, peace and security worthy of the human being."

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