Iraq's dwindling Christian community is in mourning after terrorists seized a Baghdad church during evening Mass leading to a gun battle which left at least 58 people dead and 78 wounded.
The attack, claimed by an al Qaida-linked organisation, was the latest assault against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 invasion as the community has fled to other countries.
The Pope denounced the assault at Our Lady of Deliverance church as "ferocious" and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region.
Catholics made up 2.89% of Iraq's population in 1980; by 2008 they were merely 0.89%.
Islamic militants have systematically attacked Christians in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The bloodbath began at dusk, when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange.
Only two guards were injured in the assault, which may have been an attempt by the militants to divert attention from their real target - the nearby church in an upmarket Baghdad neighbourhood.
Gunmen went inside the Syrian Catholic church and took about 120 Christians hostage.
Major General Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said 52 people were killed and 67 wounded. The dead included at least 10 policemen, two priests and five to eight attackers.
It was unclear whether most hostages died at the hands of the attackers or during the rescue.