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Iraqi Christians on Edge After Priest's Kidnapping

BAGHDAD -- Last week's kidnapping at gunpoint of a Chaldean priest in Baghdad has sent shock waves throughout the Christian community in Iraq.

On Aug. 15, the car in which Father Saad Sirop Hanna, 34, was traveling was stopped by three masked gunmen, when he was returning home from celebrating Mass in St. Jacob's Church, in the Baghdad district of Al Dora.

With the passing of time, concern grows for his safety, said the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Last Sunday, Benedict XVI expressed his closeness to suffering Iraqi victims and appealed to the kidnappers for the release of the Chaldean priest.

Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly of Babylon of the Chaldeans held a meeting last week with the prime minister of Iraq to try to find ways for Father Sirop's release.

For his part, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, in northeastern Iraq, implored on television for the priest's release. Subsequently, during an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he commented on the distress that the incident has caused in the Christian community.

"Christians are living in a panic and they are terrified of more attacks on their priests and their churches," the archbishop said.

"When a priest is kidnapped, the Christian community takes it very seriously because he is such an important religious symbol," he explained.


According to Archbishop Sako, the kidnappers have demanded a ransom of about $1 million. A few days ago they telephoned Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, informing him that they were holding the priest.

Meanwhile, friends and colleagues of Father Sirop have praised his determination to minister to his people as widely as possible during the current crisis.

Aid to the Church in Need had agreed to sponsor him to study for a doctorate in philosophy in Rome, starting this autumn.

Aid to the Church in Need noted that the kidnapping comes amid a sudden deterioration of life for Christians in Iraq -- a number of lay Christians have been killed in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, another Baghdad Chaldean priest, Father Raad Washan, was kidnapped though he was released 48 hours later.

Archbishop Sako mentioned that the lives of other priests have been threatened.

Last Sunday, Mass attendance in Baghdad was very low when a 48-hour curfew was introduced after fears of an increase in violence associated with a Shiite pilgrimage.

The archbishop described Baghdad as "a jail" from which people are desperate to escape.

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