(Photo: AP Images / Gregorio Borgia)
Hundreds of Iraqi Christians on Sunday protested against the recent flare up of violence against them in northern Iraq.
The largest demonstration was in the town of Hamdaniyah, about 25 miles east of Mosul. Protesters at the Hamdaniyah rally carried olive branches and were led by priests, including the second most senior Chaldean bishop, Shlemon Warduni, according to BBC.
Another protest took place in the capital, Baghdad, where demonstrators carried Iraqi flags and chanted, “Stop the killing of Christians.”
At least ten Iraqi Christians – also known as Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs – have been killed by unknown gunmen in Mosul within the past two weeks. The victims included several Christian shop owners, college students, as well as an entire family of five.
The string of murders, which sends the message to Christians that they can be killed at anytime and anywhere, has caused a mass exodus of members of the community from Mosul. More than 680 Christian families, or over 4,000 people, have fled Mosul between February 20 and 27, according to a United Nations report.
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday during his weekly blessing called on the international community to do “everything possible” to allow Iraqis to have a future of “reconciliation and justice.” The pope expressed his sadness at hearing news of the murders of Christians in Mosul and said he often prays for the victims.
“Today, I wish to unite myself spiritually to the prayer for peace and for the restoration of security, promoted by the Council of Bishops of Nineveh,” he said from his apartment window above St. Peter’s Square.
The pope also called on Iraqi authorities to make every effort to restore security and protect the vulnerable religious minorities.
He closed by sending a greeting to a group of Iraqis demonstrating in his presence at St. Peter’s Square.
Bishop Philip Najim, representative of the Chaldean Patriarchate to the Holy See, said, “We went to put an end, through the international community to these discriminations, these persecutions against the Christian communities in Iraq and the Middle East, especially the Middle East, and we want a peaceful life,” according to Catholic News Agency.
Najim was among the Iraqi protesters in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.
The most recent series of killings in Mosul is similar to the one in 2008, when six Christians were killed in less than a week. The 2008 string of murders caused more than 15,000 Christians to flee Mosul over a period of two weeks.
In response to the latest murders, the Iraqi Christian community in Paris also organized a demonstration Monday.