The body of a Chaldean Catholic archbishop who was kidnapped in the northern city of Mosul last month as he drove home after afternoon Mass was discovered Thursday buried in a southeastern area of the city.
The death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, evoked expressions of grief and anger from the Vatican and from world leaders, including Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.
Officials of the Chaldean Church in Iraq said they had received a call telling them where the body was buried. The cause of death was not clear. An official of the morgue in Mosul said that the archbishop, who was 65 and had health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, might have died of natural causes.
Church officials said Thursday, however, that Rahho was shot in the leg when he was abducted on Feb. 29. Gunmen sprayed his car with bullets, killed two bodyguards and shoved the archbishop into the trunk of a car, the church officials said. In the darkness, he managed to pull out his cell phone and call the church, telling them not to pay a ransom for his release, they said.
“He believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions,” the officials said.
The archbishop’s church is known in Mosul as Safina, or The Ship, but parishioners called it the Holy Spirit Church.
In Baghdad, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, said he was too overcome with grief to talk about the archbishop’s death. But he said that the morgue had released the archbishop’s body to his relatives and that a funeral would be held Friday near Mosul.
In the last few years, Mosul has been a difficult place for Christians. The archbishop’s kidnapping followed a series of attacks in January on Christian churches. Last June, a priest and three companions were shot and killed in the archbishop’s church. In January 2005, Archbishop George Yasilious, of another church in Mosul, was kidnapped and later released. In October 2006, an Orthodox priest, Polis Iskander, was beheaded after he was kidnapped and attempts to ransom him failed.
The number of Chaldeans in Iraq has dropped by at least a million since the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, though the Chaldeans are still the largest Christian group in the country. Priests have estimated that fewer than 500,000 Chaldean Christians remain in Iraq.
The Chaldean Church is an Eastern Rite church affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church but retaining its own customs and rites. Most Chaldeans live in the Middle East. Other Christian sects in Iraq include Assyrian Christians, Armenian Christians and Sabeans, an ancient sect.
Talabani sent condolences to the pope and to Cardinal Delly, saying he learned of the archbishop’s death “with a heart filled with sadness.”
He added, “The noble Iraqi Christians will keep working with their brothers from all the sects to end sectarianism and to build brotherhood and peace.”