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Benedict XVI Meets With Victims of Baghdad Church Massacre

Vatican City -- Pope Benedict XVI met with Iraqi Christians injured during the Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad.

The 26 Iraqi Christians, led by Father Giorgio Jahola, attended the Pope's Wednesday General Audience Dec. 1. The group spoke later spoke with the Pontiff and met with Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the substitute for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State and former papal nuncio to Iraq.

A one-year-old girl who lost her father and her three-year-old brother in the attack, as well as seven students attacked on their way to university classes, were among the group of Iraqis.

All 26 were able to make the trip to Rome with assistance from the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Vatican. The survivors of the attack--three children, 16 women and seven men--received medical treatment at Rome's Gemelli Hospital.

During their exchange with the Holy Father, they thanked him for the medical attention they received and for his words of comfort. They also shared photos of loved ones who lost their lives in the massacre that killed 58.

Fr. Jahola recalled the two priests who died offering their lives in exchange for the faithful present in the church. He also expressed regret that investigations into the attack have not yielded results, reported the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"In order to defend the cause of Iraq, we need sensible and honest lawyers who will investigate the errors committed against the Iraqi people," he said. "No one has investigated the causes of these latest attacks … making us think that Iraqi officials are accomplices in this tragedy. After the attack, the church was closed. No one could enter the next day because they were cleaning it. They erased all the signs of the tragedy. We want answers," the priest said.

On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al-Qaida took over 120 faithful hostage at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation during Mass.

After the Iraqi military raided the church to free the hostages, over 58 people, including two priests, were killed.

Pope Benedict lamented the disaster after he prayed the Angelus on Nov. 1. He condemned the "savage" attack and offered prayers for the victims.

"I pray for the victims of this absurd violence, even more ferocious in that it has been inflicted upon defenseless people gathered in God's house, which is a house of love and reconciliation," the Pope said.

"I express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, now stricken again, and I encourage its pastors and faithful alike to be strong and firm in hope."


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