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Iraqis to welcome pope, but first they recall a slain bishop

MGR PAULOS FARAJ RAHHOU
Alessia GIULIANI/CPP/CIRIC

On 13th anniversary of abduction of Archbishop Rahho, some call for relaunch of investigation.

As Christians in Iraq prepare to welcome Pope Francis this Friday, they began the week remembering Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the leader of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mosul, on the 13th anniversary of his kidnapping and assassination.

And one Iraqi website, ankawa.com, called for a reopening of the investigation into the archbishop’s death.

On February 29, 2008, just after leading the Stations of the Cross at Holy Spirit Cathedral in Mosul, Archbishop Rahho and his driver and two aides were attacked in their car by a group of armed men. The driver and two of the archbishop’s collaborators were killed, and Rahho was forced into the trunk of the attacker’s car. After days of intense negotiations for his release, his lifeless body was found on March 12, near an abandoned cemetery. He was 65, and the causes of his death have never been definitively clarified. 

The archbishop suffered poor health and needed daily medication, following a heart attack several years earlier, the Guardian reported in 2008. 

An al Qaeda leader, Ahmed Ali Ahmed, known as Abu Omar, was arrested, found  guilty and sentenced to death in May 2008. Ahmed had been sought for his involvement in a number of “terror crimes against the people of Iraq,” a government spokesman said at the time, according to Reuters. The Chaldean Church opposed the execution. 

There had been an escalation of violence against Christians in Iraq following the 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. In 2006, Archbishop Rahho expressed concern at the inclusion of some aspects of sharia law in the new Iraqi constitution, the Guardian said. 

Rahho’s kidnapping followed a series of attacks on Christian churches, the New York Times reported. The previous June, a priest and three companions were shot and killed in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. In January 2005, Archbishop George Yasilious, of another church in Mosul, was kidnapped and later released. In October 2006, an Orthodox priest, Boulos Iskander, was beheaded after he was kidnapped and attempts to ransom him failed. 

While in the trunk of his captors’ car, Rahho called local Church officials with his cell phone, urging them not to pay a ransom for his release.

“He believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions,” officials said. 

“Church of martyrs”

Born to a Chaldean family in Mosul in 1942, Rahho spent nearly all his life in the city. In 1954, he entered St. Peter’s junior and major seminary in Baghdad. After his ordination on June 10, 1965, he briefly worked in Baghdad before being appointed to St. Isiah’s Church in Mosul.

He received a licentiate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1976. Otherwise, he spent his career as a pastor in Mosul, building the Church of the Sacred Heart in the district of Telkif and the bishop’s residence, and opening an orphanage for children with disabilities. He was made archbishop in 2001.

The Guardian provided more details of his life:

A warm, humble and compassionate man, he was famous for his jokes — something often remarked on by his brother bishops. What no one doubted was his courage in defense of his flock. On at least two previous occasions, he had faced down harassment and threats. In August 2004, he was frogmarched out of his official residence and forced to watch as the building was set ablaze. On another occasion, he was accosted by gunmen in the street, but walked on, daring them to shoot him. Even while imprisoned in the boot of his kidnappers’ car, he managed to pull out his cellphone and call his church, instructing officials not to pay a ransom.

As well as working with other Christian leaders to show unity in the face of rising Islamic terrorism, he sought to forge good relations with local Muslims. After his residence was burned down, a local imam offered him accommodation at a mosque complex. But he also talked about the dilemmas facing Christians being pressurized to leave, convert to Islam or stay and pay the jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. He told Asia News: “We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine, persecution ended only for western Christians, whereas in the east threats continued. Even today we continue to be a church of martyrs.”

The Synod of Chaldean Bishops in September 2016 proposed opening a process to beatify Archbishop Rahho.

Read more: Pope’s visit to Iraq should help minority Christians, bishop says Read more: 10 years after Mosul archbishop was killed, his beatification cause is opened