Message modified by board administrator 7/8/2008, 1:38 pm
ACN News, Wednesday, 5th March 2008 – IRAQ
The price of freedom
Ransom demanded for kidnapped archbishop
KIDNAPPERS who seized an archbishop in Iraq at gunpoint outside his cathedral have demanded a ransom of US$1 million.
Amid growing fears for the safety and health of Archbishop Faraj Rahho, 65, of Mosul, northern Iraq, mediators acting on behalf of the Church have been in contact with the kidnappers, whose identity still remains unknown.
Speaking on the telephone yesterday (Sunday, 2nd March), two days after the archbishop was snatched from his cathedral in Mosul, the kidnappers refused to allow the mediators to talk to the cleric despite the need for medicine for his heart complaint.
(Chaldean Archbishop Rahho with some his fellow priests, sisters and lay people of Mosul - Photo ACN)
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need today (Monday 3rd March), Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad said that Church leaders were outraged by the kidnappers’ demands but were “full of hope” that the archbishop was still alive and that negotiations could now begin for his release.
He said: “The people who are dealing with the kidnappers have told them it is impossible to afford the ransom. The mediators asked to hear the voice of the archbishop but they weren’t allowed.”
Stressing the shock of the killing of three men at the time of the kidnapping, Bishop Abouna said: “The people responsible have obviously done this for money but they clearly also wanted to scare the Christians in Mosul and all over the country and let them know they are not safe.”
The bishop added: “Even as bishops, what can we do to help him? All we can do is hope and pray.”
With three days passed since the incident at Mosul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral and no sign of a break-through, the bishop stressed how Archbishop Rahho’s disappearance was “more concerning” than the January 2005 day-long kidnapping of Archbishop Georges Casmoussa, also from Mosul.
Bishop Abouna described the “angry and scared” faithful at the Sunday Mass he celebrated yesterday in Baghdad’s Our Lady of the Assumption Church in the Mansour region of the city.
He continued: “I told the people at Mass that Jesus is with us and that we have to hold our heads up high and not be afraid. I reminded them that Jesus has told us from the beginning that the way of Christianity is not easy.
“It is not that to be a Christian is full of sadness,” said Bishop Abouna, “but that Jesus told us that people would have to suffer for him”.
He spoke of how the faithful had been consoled by Pope Benedict XVI’s repeated appeals for Archbishop Rahho’s release.
Speaking yesterday (Sunday) after the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s, Rome, the Pope said: “I express my closeness to the entire Church in Iraq… which has once again been dealt a serious blow. I encourage all of the pastors and faithful to be strong and firm in hope.”
John Pontifex from the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need said the kidnapping “was almost certainly intended” as a warning to Christians across the country.
Mr Pontifex said the proportion of Christians leaving Iraq was much higher than other groups and that the kidnapping would only cause yet more emigration.
Saying that the number of Christians fleeing their homes was likely to be “far higher” than the 600,000 often quoted, Mr Pontifex warned of the possible long-term extinction of Christianity from Iraq, a fear which according to the Pope applies to the whole of the Middle East.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
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