Iraqi faithful hold a banner prior to the start of Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus prayer in St. Peter's square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. The Pontiff appealed to the Iraqi authorities to provide security to Christians minority following the recent spate of killings against Christians in Iraq. (Daylife Photos-AP, Reuters, Getty)
Papal Intentions for March:
Calls on Iraqi Government to Protect Vulnerable Minorities:
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is calling on the Iraqi government to do all they can to stop the recent killing spree of Christians in the northern city of Mosul.
Before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Pope called the recent killings of Christians as "tragic news," and that it filled him with "deep sadness."
At least eight Christians have been killed in the last two weeks. The last murder occurred Tuesday, when an armed commando entered the home of an Assyrian Christian family, killing the father and two sons in front of his wife and daughter, whose lives were spared by the criminals.
Some 15,000 Christians remain in the Muslim-majority city of Mosul, where their families have lived for 2,000 years.
The Holy Father said that during his weeklong spiritual exercises, which ended Saturday, he "followed with much concern the other episodes of violence, perpetrated in the martyred land of Iraq, which have harmed defenseless persons of various religious affiliations."
"I often prayed for all the victims of those attacks and today I would like to join myself spiritually in prayer for peace and the restoration of security promoted by the council of bishops at Nineveh," he added.
"I am affectionately near to the Christians communities of the whole country," said Benedict XVI. "Do not weary of being a ferment for good for the homeland to which, for centuries, you have rightfully belonged!"
Some 1,000 Christians gathered today in Mosul to protest the almost-daily killings. In Kirkuk, a similar march will take place Monday.
In 2000, as many as 5,000 Christian families lived in Mosul. They have endured multiple attacks, particularly in September 2008, after which about half the Christian population fled the city. Many of those subsequently returned.
The murders come just ahead of March 7 parliamentary elections in the country, which many see to be decisive for determining the future direction of the country.
"In the delicate political phase that Iraq is passing through I call upon the civil authorities that they do everything possible to restore security to the population and, especially to the most vulnerable religious minorities," urged Benedict XVI.
"It is my wish that they do not given in to the temptation to allow the temporary and special interests prevail over the safety and the fundamental rights of every citizen," he continued.
"Finally," the Pope added, "as I greet the Iraqis present here in the piazza, I exhort the international community to do its best to give the Iraqis a future of reconciliation and justice...
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 1,000 minority Christians, many holding olive branches, marched in protest near the restive city of Mosul on Sunday to urge the Iraqi government to act decisively after a series of killings.
At least eight Christians have been killed in the last two weeks in the turbulent northern city, 390 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad, prompting Pope Benedict to appeal on Sunday for Iraq's Christians to be better protected.
Two of those attacked had gone missing, their bodies later found dumped in the street with gunshot wounds. Others were shot dead in the street, near their homes, or at their place of work.
Some 683 Christian families, or 4,098 people, fled Mosul between February 20 and 27 following the attacks, a United Nations report said on Sunday.
The murders came just weeks before Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election, which has the potential to help cement an end to seven years of war or plunge a still-divided country into a new cycle of violence.
"I appeal to the civil authorities to complete every effort to give security again to the population, and in particular, to the most vulnerable religious minorities," the Pope said in his weekly blessing from Vatican City.
Priests in religious vestments led the protest procession in the Christian town of Hamdaniya, 40 km (25 miles) east of Mosul.
"The blood of innocents screams for terrorism and violence to be stopped," read one banner.
Sunni Islamist insurgents such as al Qaeda have long targeted Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and other Iraqi minorities, as well as majority Shi'ites, whom they consider heretics. Christians number an estimated 750,000 in Iraq, a small minority in a country of 28 million.
Al Qaeda has vowed to use "military means" to derail the national ballot next month, which it sees as a farce to ensure Shi'ite domination of Sunnis.
Targeting Christians is an effective way to highlight the shortcomings of Iraq's security forces, given the media attention that attacks against Christians attract. Iraqi Muslims are killed in much greater numbers.
Making life especially difficult for minorities in Iraq's north is their precarious position among the region's larger Arab and Kurd communities, which are feuding over land and oil.
The dispute has left a security vacuum in some areas which al Qaeda has exploited, even as its influence has waned elsewhere in Iraq.
"We blame the federal and local governments and the head of security operations in Nineveh (province) for the killing of our Christian sons," said Saad Qanyous, one of the Christian protesters.