Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)
VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org) - Benedict XVI is asking the Iraqi government to increase security around places of worship; a letter to the Iraqi prime minister was published today after more Christians were killed in Mosul.
A Jan. 2 note from the Pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was published today in L'Osservatore Romano.
The letter affirms that the Pontiff "prays with fervor for the end of the violence and appeals to the government to do everything possible to increase security around places of worship in the whole country."
At the time the letter was written a church had been attacked on Christmas morning 30 miles north of Mosul, three Christians in Mosul were killed, and a Christian student was kidnapped from her university.
In the note, the cardinal recalled the visit of the prime minister to the Vatican in 2008, during which "the common hope was expressed that, through dialogue and cooperation between the ethnic and religious groups of your country, including its minorities, the Republic of Iraq will be able to effect a moral and civil reconstruction, in full respect of the identity of those groups, in a spirit of reconciliation and in the pursuit of the common good."
He added that on that occasion, the Pope exhorted "respect in Iraq for the right of freedom of worship and appealed for the protection of Christians and their churches," and the secretary of state did the same.
"You assured me," the cardinal wrote, "that your government was taking very seriously the situation of the Christian minority which has lived for so many centuries together with the Muslim majority, contributing in a considerable way to the economic, cultural and social well-being of the nation."
Cardinal Bertone stressed that the Pope asked him to write the Iraqi prime minister "to transmit his sincere solidarity to you, Excellency, and to all those who died or were wounded in the recent series of attacks on government buildings and places of worship in Iraq, both Muslim as well as Christian."
The letter ends with the cardinal expressing his "appreciation for the numerous initiatives undertaken in benefit of the whole Iraqi community," and assuring Al-Maliki of his "highest esteem."
According to L'Osservatore Romano, the text was published after the Pope learned "with profound sorrow" of the latest killings in Mosul.
The Pontiff, who at present is on spiritual exercises together with his collaborators of the Roman Curia, "is close to those who are suffering the consequences of the violence, with prayer and affection," it reported.
Already last week, the leader of the Archdiocese of Mosul, Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona, told Aid to the Church in Need that if the situation does not improve, the ancient Christian community of the region will disappear.
Four Christians had been killed in as many days, and the prelate -- who at 42 is the Church's youngest archbishop -- affirmed that the city's few remaining Christians are panicked.
The situation has only worsened, however. Tuesday, three Christians of the same family were slain in Mosul, now bringing to eight the number of Christians killed in the city in the last 10 days.
Syrian Catholics Aishwa Maroki, 59, and his two sons, Mokhlas, 31, and Bassim, 25, were shot in their home.