Persecuted Iraqi Christians grateful for Pope's support


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The strong words of Pope Benedict XVI against anti-Christian violence in Mosul were acknowledged with gratitude by Iraqis, according to a bishop speaking from Iraq on Monday. Christians, Muslims and members of two other Iraqi minority groups peacefully protested in Baghdad, calling for an end to the violence and demanding protection, reports Catholic News Agency.

Auxilary Bishop of Baghdad Shlemon Warduni spoke from the Iraqi capital with the Italian bishops' news agency SIR about the demonstrations and the reaction to the Pope's special greeting and call for government protection of minorities, especially Christians in Mosul.

"We are thankful to Benedict XVI, we know how much he cares about our community: we hope that his voice and has a resonance in the world and especially in the hard of heart," Bishop Warduni said.

The Pope's message, he added, offered "strong words which were full of hope that resound as an appeal to Christians to have confidence in justice and not to leave their country."

Five hundred people were in Baghdad's Paradise Square for the protest, which was set up by the Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights. Besides Christians, the demonstrators included Muslims, Yazidi and Sabei people, the SIR report said.

Bishop Warduni explained the cause for the protests,"We want peace and security, no more violence.

"We are rightful Iraqi citizens and as such we demand our rights, firstly that to life," he stated.

"Enough with the Christian massacres. We want protection."

Several representatives spoke during the demonstration, including Bishop Warduni and the Syro-Catholic Chorbishop, Fr. Pius Qasha, who read the Syro-Catholic Patriarch's message released last week. The Patriarch demanded protection for Christians in his message, and said that if the government can't protect Iraqi Christians that it should arm them.

The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Emil Shimoun Nona said recently that "the situation is calmer now, the exodus has slowed down." But he added that tension still remains over the murderers being at large and the lack of government action.

Thousands of people reportedly turned out for a prayer vigil in Mosul on Sunday morning, during which time they fasted. As a form of protest, no Masses were offered in the city until the afternoon.