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Funerals for slain Catholics held in Baghdad

media Residents take part in a funeral for victims of an attack on the Our Lady … Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters

Hundreds of people filed into the Saint Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad on Tuesday to mourn the killing of two priests and 44 parishoners who were taken hostage last Sunday, then killed by Al-Qaeda gunmen. Some 700 worshippers and representatives from the government and every ethnic community in Iraq attended the memorial service in solidarity for those who were killed.

Church representatives had worried earlier in the day that fear of another attack would keep people away. This latest attack on the dwindling Christian community will speed up the exodus from Iraq, according to some. But Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly quelled those thoughts.

"We are not afraid of death and threats. We are the sons of this country and we will stay with our Muslim brothers in Iraq, hand-in-hand to glorify the name of Iraq," said Delly.

Seven coffins were in the church at the beginning of the ceremony, but more were brought in during the service, as those in the church quietly applauded with each entry, according to witnesses.

Father Taher Saadallah Boutros and Father Wassim Sabih tried to save their parishoners after 80 were taken hostage.

Gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed the Our Lady of Salvation church during the services last Sunday, and one put a gun to the head of Father Boutros, according to a witness.

"He told them, 'Kill me but let the worshippers go in peace,' " said a witness named Steven. The gunman responded, "'Convert to Islam beause in any case you will die,' and then they shot him in the head."

Monsignor Pius Kasha, the vicar of Iraq's Syriac Catholic church, said the two men would be buried in a cemetery next to the Baghdad cathedral because they had been "inseparable" in life.

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