Despite insecurity, Catholics in Iraq pray for Pope John Paul II
By Eleni E. Dimmler
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite continued insecurity and violence, Catholics in Iraq attended services for Pope John Paul II April 3 and will do so again April 10, clergymen told the Fides news service.

"The people are filling the churches, even in the face of a thousand dangers and difficulties," Msgr. Pyoss Qasha, pastor of St. Joseph Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, said in an interview with Fides, the Vatican's missionary news agency.

"We all remember how much the Holy Father did for Iraq and for us Iraqi Christians," Father Qasha said. "He wanted to visit our country and make a pilgrimage to the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, to the places of Abraham, the father of us all."

Ur is traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Abraham; the government of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would not permit the pope to visit as part of his Holy Year 2000 pilgrimage to important places in the history of salvation.

Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, planned to join St. Joseph's parishioners April 10 for a special memorial Mass.

Pope John Paul's April 8 funeral Mass and interment at the Vatican were scheduled to be broadcast live on Iraqi television by the satellite channel Al Dyar, Fides said.

The bells of St. Joseph's tolled for the pope at the service April 3 as Catholics held a candlelit procession.

"The pope loved and defended Iraq with powerful symbolic acts and vibrant speeches," Msgr. Qasha said. "He had the courage to say no to war."

Pope John Paul strongly opposed U.S. armed intervention in Iraq.

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