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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI decried the killing of Christians in Iraq and India and appealed Sunday for political and religious leaders to defend them.
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI makes the sign of the cross during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
In India, anti-Christian riots and rampages by Hindu extremists have claimed at least 38 lives since late August, destroying dozen of churches and leaving as many as 30,000 people homeless.
Attacks against Christians and other minorities in Iraq had tapered off amid a drastic decline in overall violence nationwide before some 13,000 Christians were chased away by threats and extremist attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in recent weeks, according to the U.N.
Sunni extremists are believed to be behind the campaign.
The pope reiterated a call for "religious leaders and to all men and women of good will about the tragedy that is developing in some Asian countries, where Christians are victims of intolerance and cruel violence, killed, threatened and forced to abandon their homes and wander about in search of refuge."
* Christian families flee Mosul after death threats
* Indian police probe sectarian clashes
"I am thinking above all of Iraq and India," Benedict told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.
"I am sure that the ancient and noble peoples of those nations have learned, through centuries of respectful coexistence, to appreciate the contribution that the small, but hardworking and qualified, Christian minorities contribute to the growth of their common countries," Benedict said.
He insisted that the Christians "are not seeking privileges, but desire only to be able to continue to live in their country together with their fellow citizens, as they have always done."
Benedict called on leaders to "spare no effort" so that "honest and loyal citizens can count on adequate protection" from national authorities.