The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Islamic militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate bombings that occurred on Christmas day.
"In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38," the AP reports. "Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21."
Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church said a parked car bomb exploded after Christmas Mass near his church but none of his flock were hurt. Sako told the AP he did not think the church was the target.
“The Christian community in Iraq has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have many other innocent Iraqis,” said a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. “The United States abhors all such attacks and is committed to its partnership with the government of Iraq to combat the scourge of terrorism.”
Thus far, no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but al-Qaida and other insurgent groups within the country have been killing Christians since the fall of Saddam. Numerous attacks have caused the Christian population to dwindle to less than 600,000 from an estimated 1.5 million before the Iraqi war.
In fact, one of the bloodiest attacks on Christians in Middle East history occurred in Baghdad in 2010 when Islamic terrorists affiliated with the al-Qaida-linked group "Islamic State of Iraq" stormed Our Lady of Salvation cathedral in Baghdad and slaughtered 60 Catholics during Sunday Mass.
During the Angelus address on the feast of the Church's first martyr, Saint Stephen, Pope Francis asked for prayer for all of those Christians around the world who are losing their lives because of their faith.
"We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like Saint Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds," he said. "This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realized. In my opinion, there are more today than in the early days of the Church. As it happens however, even in countries and places that protect freedom and human rights on the paper, believers, especially Christians, encounter limitations or discrimination."
He then stopped to ask for a moment of silence, followed by leading the faithful in the recitation of a Hail Mary for these persecuted souls.
"For Christians, this is not surprising because Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to bear witness. Nevertheless, injustice must be legally reported and eliminated," he added.
"May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us experience Christmas with the ardour of faith and love that shines in Saint Stephen and all the martyrs of the Church!"
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