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Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho: Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul

Paulos Faraj Rahho led Christians in Mosul, Iraq, through one of the darkest periods in their history. His tenure as Archbishop of Mosul coincided with mounting persecution of Christians following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. In many parts of Iraq they suffered increasing threats from extremists, but Mosul suffered especially badly and on 29 February, Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped on the steps of his own cathedral.

He was already a sick man and dependent on daily medication for a heart condition. On Wednesday, the kidnappers made contact with the Church and gave information which led to the discovery of his body in a shallow grave in Mosul.

Paul Faraj Rahho was born in 1942, the youngest of eight children. Educated in Mosul, in 1960 he went to Baghdad and graduated from the St Peter's Theological Institute. He was ordained priest in 1965 for the Chaldean Church, an ancient oriental church under the authority of a Patriarch but loyal to Rome.

Most of Rahho's priestly life was spent in the service of Mosul diocese. He was appointed to St Isaiah's Church, Mosul, later taking a licence in pastoral theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was studying for a doctorate in 1977 when the then archbishop asked him to return to Mosul. Appointed to serve Majmoaa Thakaifya, a new residentital area in Mosul, Rahho built a new church and later opened a home for orphans and people with disabilities.

As archbishop, he completed work on his Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, in Mosul's al-Noor residential area. In a country at least 96 per cent Muslim and with less than 1.2 million Christians, inter-faith links were a priority to Rahho, who was elected a member of Mosul Nobles Council.

By then, the situation for Christians in Mosul was spiralling out of control and Rahho watched with alarm as attacks on his faithful increased, sparking a mass exodus and prompting fears that Christianity could be wiped out in Iraq. Reports spread of how Mosul had become a focal point of Sunni Wahabi extremist activity in Iraq.

In August 2004, there were simultaneous attacks on churches in Mosul and Baghdad and within months the archbishop himself was targeted. He was frogmarched out of his official residence and forced to watch as the building was set ablaze. Barely nine months ago, a Chaldean Catholic priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni, was gunned down in almost exactly the same spot where Rahho was later abducted.

On his way to Rahho's funeral yesterday, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk spoke to me by telephone, describing him as, "above all, a pastor. Despite all the risks to his life, he stayed in the city. He gave up his life for his people and for his church. He was a man of courage but also of good humour. He loved telling jokes and was very sociable."

John Pontifex

Paulos Faraj Rahho, priest: born 20 December 1942; ordained priest 1965; Archbishop of Mosul 2001-08; died c12 March 2008.