Pope Issues Strong Appeal for Peace in Iraq

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the 5-year-old Iraqi war and issued one of his strongest appeals for peace in the country Sunday, days after the kidnapped Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul was found dead.

"Enough with the slaughters. Enough with the violence. Enough with the hatred in Iraq!" Benedict said to applause at the end of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

On Thursday, the body of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, from where he had been abducted on Feb. 29. No one has claimed responsibility, but al-Qaida retains its last urban stronghold in the area.

Benedict has called Rahho's death an "inhuman act of violence" that offended human dignity.

On Sunday, Benedict praised Rahho for his loyalty to Christ and refusal to abandon his flock despite many threats and difficulties.

He recalled that Rahho's death came as the Catholic Church opened Holy Week, the most solemn week in the liturgical calendar, in which the faithful recall the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Benedict said Rahho's dedication to the Church and his death compelled him to "raise a strong and sorrowful cry" to denounce the violence in Iraq spawned by the war that he said had destroyed civilian life.

"At the same time, I make an appeal to the Iraqi people, who for the past five years have borne the consequences of a war that provoked the breakup of their civil and social life," Benedict said.

He urged them to raise their heads and reconstruct their life through "reconciliation, forgiveness, justice and coexistence among tribal, ethnic and religious groups."

The Vatican strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In its aftermath, Benedict has frequently criticized attacks against Iraqi Christians by Islamic extremists. Last year, he urged U.S. President George W. Bush to keep the safety of Iraqi Christians in mind.

Benedict is due to preside over a memorial service at the Vatican on Monday in honor of Rahho. Typically, the pope only presides over such services when a cardinal dies.

The pontiff's appeal for peace came at the end of his Palm Sunday Mass. Over the next week, Benedict will preside over the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and the celebration of Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday.

At the start of Mass, Benedict blessed palms and olive branches with holy water and then processed through St. Peter's Square, wearing intricate, red- and gold-brocaded vestments and clutching a woven palm frond.

In his homily, Benedict urged the faithful to follow God with the innocence and purity of a child's heart.

"To recognize God, we must abandon the pride that dazzles us, that seeks to push us away from God," he said. To find God, he said, "we must learn to see with a young heart, one which isn't blocked by prejudice and dazzled by interests."

Sunday also marked a lead-up celebration to the Catholic Church's annual World Youth Day, and young people were very much on hand during the open-air service on a blustery spring day. A few hundred carried massive palm fronds at the start of the procession through the square.

Benedict plans to attend World Youth Day itself in Sydney, Australia, in July.