The news that Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in Iraq has been killed could force the Church underground, say Iraqi Christians in Need (ICIN).
The Chaldean Catholic archbishop was kidnapped on February 29 soon after he left Mass in Mosul. Three people who had been with him were killed by the kidnappers.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope were amongst those who made public pleas for his safety, but his body was found yesterday.
Bishop Crispian Hollis, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth said yesterday: "I join with all those in Iraq and elsewhere who mourn for the Archbishop. Archbishop Rahho’s abduction and death represents the latest blow against a Christian community that is undergoing an ordeal by persecution and my prayers and thoughts are with Iraq’s Christians, particularly in Mosul, as they struggle to live in faith."
Under Saddam Hussein's regime Christians had experienced a degree of protected in Iraq's secular state.
ICIN spokesperson Dr Suha Rassam said, “The killing of Archbishop Rahho is shocking. Christians will now be even more in fear of their lives from Islamic fundamentalists.
“The only way for the Church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the first and second centuries. This way, Mass and other services would be held in secret and priests go about their duties clandestinely.
“Over the last eight months, attacks on Christians have been escalating. In June Father Ragheed Gani and three deacons were murdered, two priests were kidnapped in October, and in January four churches and a convent were bombed.
“When Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped nearly two weeks ago his driver and two companions were shot dead. Now, he has been killed.
“This is not a situation anyone would want, but the Christian population is living each day in terror of being kidnapped or murdered. When the Church is facing persecution of this magnitude, then desperate measures might have to be taken.”