Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped and found beheaded three days later said Thursday that his captors had demanded his church condemn the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a US$350,000 (€280,000) ransom.
More than 500 people attended a memorial service Thursday for Father Amer Iskender in the northern city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found Wednesday evening in an industrial area of the city.
Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul.
"He was a good man and we all shed tears for him," said Eman Saaur, a 45-year-old schoolteacher who said she attended Iskender's church regularly. "He was a man of peace."
Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the unidentified group that seized Iskender on Sunday had demanded a ransom and that his church condemn a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI last month that ignited a wave anger throughout the Muslim world.
Before Iskender was kidnapped, his relatives said, the church already had put up signs condemning the statement and calling for good relations between Christians and Muslims. The message was posted again, they said, after the priest's kidnappers made their demand.
"It was a tragedy," said Hazim Shaaiya, 60, who had come to the memorial service to pay respects. "Father Amer Iskender was a peaceful, kind religious man."
Please say a prayer for this priest. Indeed, he died the death all followers of Christ are supposed to die: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). And who better to lay down your life for than for Our King and Lord, who died for our sins and forgives us each time in Confession.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.