The Deacon's Bench

capt.photo_1288596055236-1-0.jpgThose were the desperate prayers of the Iraqis held hostage during mass on Sunday — a crisis that ended in a bloodbath:

Around 5:20 p.m., as the Christian worshipers stood and recited “Upon this rock I will build my church,” the gunfire started on the street outside.

Father Thar advised everyone to stay seated and to keep praying, but Madeline Mikhal and others rushed from their pews.

Suddenly a large explosion rocked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Bullets whistled by. Some worshipers ran to the church basement. Mikhal darted into the priests’ changing room. A barrage of bullets thundered in the main hall.

Many parishioners dived beneath the pews seeking cover. But the dozen or so gunmen, some wearing vests covered with explosives and carrying grenades and other weapons, took aim at the scrambling congregation.

“Those who couldn’t find a place to hide were killed,” Mikhal said.

She was among more than 70 people who pressed together in the priests’ dressing room. The group blocked the door with a dresser, and knocked out the fluorescent lights and waited in the dark. One of the priests, Father Rafael, had taken shelter with them. Mikhal spotted Baan Selim, a relative through marriage.

“Oh Mary, Christ, God, please protect us,” they whispered and sobbed.

The attack came during a Sunday evening Mass celebrating the church’s founding. And even in a place where a sectarian war has killed hundreds in car bombings, executions and mass kidnappings, the seizure of the Syrian Catholic Church, with 120 worshipers inside, ranked among the worst acts in the country’s recent history.

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