VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI condemned fresh violence against Christians in Iraq and called on the nation to work toward peace.
In a telegram written on behalf of the pope, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pontiff was “deeply saddened by the news of the tragic loss of life and injuries” caused by two bomb attacks near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Three buses carrying students from the village of Qaraqosh to a university in Mosul were struck by a roadside explosion followed by a car bombing May 2.
At least four people died and more than 170 were injured; some of the victims included bystanders.
The papal telegram, which was sent to Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul, called on “all men and women of good will to hold fast to the ways of peace and to repudiate all acts of violence which have caused so much suffering.”
Redemptorist Father Bashar Wardu of Irbil said “It was a brutal, unprecedented attack. We are shocked since the victims were not soldiers or militants, but just students who were carrying books, pens and their dreams of growing up and serving their own nation.”
“Christians are still being targeted,” he told Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, May 3.
The buses were escorted by Iraqi soldiers, and the bombings occurred between two checkpoints staffed by U.S., Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers.
The minority Christian community “feels unprotected and left at the mercy of extremists,” said Father Wardu, adding that the government needed to do more to guarantee the safety and security of its citizens.
Archbishop Casmoussa told Fides May 3 that Christians were ready to call for the United Nations to intervene and help protect them.
“If the civil and military authorities do not protect us, we will have to ask for help from the international headquarters” of the United Nations, he said.
He said Iraqi Christians undergo some sort of attack every week, if not every day.
“Fear reigns among the Christian communities,” he said, adding that the injustice against Christians has been met with “general indifference” by civil and government authorities.
Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency, that Iraqi Christians feel at a loss as to how to protect themselves from further attacks. Having a military escort in front and behind the bus convoy was not enough to prevent the tragedy, he said.
Bishop Warduni said the escalation in violence was because of a power vacuum as Iraq continues trying to form a government after its March 7 parliamentary elections.
Chaldean Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul told SIR May 3 that the struggle between parties vying for power in the new government “does nothing more than create the right conditions for violence.”
He said the bombings killed four people and injured 171, including 17 seriously.