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Responding to what Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic leader Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako has called “a human catastrophe and the risk of a real genocide,” Aid to the Church in Need-USA (ACNUSA) has launched a major campaign to provide humanitarian aid to the Christian community in Iraq that has been terrorized by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for more than six weeks.
ACNUSA has made two initial grants, $135,000 for emergency aid for Iraq’s Christian refugees and $186,000 in support of the Christian community in Syria. There, continued fighting between the regime and the opposition, the devastation caused by the civil war to date, and targeted attacks are causing enormous suffering to local Christians.
“Both countries are threatened with the extinction of ancient Christian communities,” said George Marlin, Chairman of the Board of ACNUSA. “Both Churches and governments in the West must do their utmost to prevent what has become a tragedy of historic proportions,” he added.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.
Marlin urges the West to intervene to stop the atrocities of ISIS in Iraq, which have been marked by “cruelties beyond words.” There have been reports of beheadings and crucifixions of Christians and other minorities. Water, food, emergency supplies and medicine “are the first order of the day,” he said, but in the long term a lasting solution must be found that guarantees Christians’ safe haven in both Syria and Iraq.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue also recognized that attrocities have been carried out in Iraq in recent weeks. In a statement issued today it has called on "religious leaders, those involved in interfaith dialogue and on all men and women of good will, to unequivocally condemn terror in the name of religion."
"This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity: the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation; the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places; the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya) or forced exile; the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick; the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war (sabaya); the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation; the destruction of places of worship and Christian and Muslim burial places; the forced occupation or desecration of churches and monasteries; the removal of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols as well as those of other religious communities; the destruction of a priceless Christian religious and cultural heritage; indiscriminate violence aimed at terrorizing people to force them to surrender or flee."
Some of the most frightening testimony has come from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine of Siena in Iraq, who wrote about the ISIS takeover of Karakosh on the night of August 7-8. "We gradually started to understand that the Peshmerga, who were supposed to protect Karakosh, were pulling out, leaving the town unprotected," said a posting at the website of the Order of Preachers. They later discovered that the same thing was happening in 15 villages in the Nineveh Plain. "Our exodus started at 11:30 pm, and before that we decided to pray and have the Holy Communion so that if the ISIS entered the house, it will not be defiled. But on the last minute, we decided to leave one piece in the tabernacle praying it will protect the house and the town."
ISIS, or the Islamic State, swept into Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in early July after gaining strength in the Syrian Civil War.
In Syria, ACNUSA will be supporting the Archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Yabroud and provide emergency relief for families in the country’s famous “Valley of the Christians,” which has seen some of the most intense fighting of the Syrian civil war.
“Not only is the rich Christian patrimony of these countries at stake,” said Marlin; “Christians play a vital role in Muslim societies as a moderating force, playing an indispensable role in mediating between warring factions and maintaining relations with the international community.”
The commitment of the Christians in the Middle East to “education and democratic values across the board” makes them peace-builders, he said—and that is a “vital interest for the West.”
ACNUSA is hoping that donors will help it send $1 million to the persecuted and suffering Church in the region. More information can be found on its website.