Archbishop's Slaying Rocks Iraq's Christian Minority
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Iraq, the body of a kidnapped Chaldean Catholic bishop was discovered buried near the northern city of Mosul today. Paulos Faraj Rahho was seized late February as he was leaving mass. Police sources say his suspected assailants called church officials to tell them he had been killed and were to find a body.
Even though Christians make up a tiny portion of Iraq's population, they have been the repeated victims of violence. Many have fled the country and others have joined the ranks of Iraq's two and a half million internally displaced people.
From Baghdad, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has that story.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rahim Jaro Mansour(ph) turns on a path and starts to water the kitchen garden just outside his small borrowed house in Baghdad. Around him are the imposing empty buildings and gardens of the (unintelligible) convent. It was once filled with novices being taught by Chaldean Christian nuns. All but three went north to escape the violence here. Now, instead of chatter, the only sound is of the birds and the trees.
(Soundbite of birds chirping)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mansour is 58, diabetic with weak heart. The convent has become his sanctuary. The three elderly nuns took him and his family in. they are allowed to eat off the land as long as he takes care of the garden.
Mr. RAHIM JARO MANSOUR (Resident): (Through translator) There's lettuce, beans, onions and other vegetables here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The two-bedroom house used to be occupied by a monk. Now, Mansour's wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter live with him there. This place, he says, is like an empty paradise.
Mr. MANSOUR: (Through translator) There are no people here. We are living with the gardens only. Back there, we had neighbors to talk to, but here, there are only a few guards.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back there is the infamous neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad. At the height of the civil war, Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias fought each other viciously. The Christians, too, were targeted there.
(Soundbite of people talking)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mansour walks inside the house. He says his family lost everything when their old apartment was demolished.
Mr. MANSOUR: (Through translator) Two or three of us were sitting together outside when the first mortar landed in the middle of our group. The dust covered us all. Then the second mortar landed right on our apartment. The apartment went up in flames and we fled.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: His wife Nedal Isa(ph) says that the Dora house of one of her daughter's was also burnt to the ground by insurgents. Other relatives and friends dispersed as the violence worsened. As she speaks, husband Rahim Jaro Mansour shakes his head despondently.
Mr. MANSOUR: (Through translator) I do not feel comfortable. This is a bad situation. We do not feel okay.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Islamic militants in Iraq portray Christians as accomplices of American forces whom they say are on a Christian crusade against Islam. The murder of the Chaldean archbishop in Mosul is only the latest in many bloody attacks against the Christian community.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A squat woman in a pink head scarf rings a small bell that tells the three old nuns that it's time to eat. Sister Esther Hannah(ph) comes down. A nun for 44 years, she refuses to leave this place despite the continuing violence. Last week, a roadside bomb blew a hole in the convent walls. She says there are many displaced families that have come to stay at the convent over the years.
Sister ESTHER HANNAH: (Through translator) Of course we accept them. How could we not accept them? During the U.S. invasion, there are around 400 families, Muslim families, came here to this monastery. All our neighbors depended on our protection. They remained with us for a long time. We shared whatever we had.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, the nuns share what they have with these newer arrivals. Sister Esther says it's not surprising that Mansour and his family feel so lonely.
Sister HANNAH: (Through translator) The Christians have left, there are a few remain now, not all of them, but so many have gone away.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The guard opened the door to the church on the grounds. It is hauntingly silent. The family looks around. They say they love this grand convent with its lawns and golden brick buildings. Still, like many internally displaced people, Nedal says she praise the one thing only.
Ms. NEDAL ISA: (Speaking in foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peace, she says. Peace for this whole country so that they can return home.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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