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Catholics throughout the United States have organized efforts to pray for peace in Iraq, especially for persecuted Christians.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, has called for collective prayer for peace in Iraq on Sunday, Aug. 17 using a prayer written by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon.
“Lord, the plight of our country is deep and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening,” reads the prayer of Patriarch Louis Rafael I Sako. “Therefore, we ask you Lord to spare our lives, and to grant us patience, and courage to continue our witness of Christian values with trust and hope.”
“Lord, peace is the foundation of life; grant us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy,” the prayer concludes. “Glory be to you forever.”
In an interview with Aleteia, Patriarch Sako suggested that the situation faced by the Yazidi people in Iraq is worse than the ordeal Christians are enduring. He said more than a thousand Yazidi women have been kidnapped and “too many children” have died.
“These people have no food and water and feel isolated from the world,” he said. “They do not know where to go and what to do.”
The patriarch said that reports of ISIS beheading Christian children is not true.
"Nothing of the kind,” the Baghdad-based prelate said. “No decapitation. In Mosul there was money stolen, but Christians have not been physically attacked.”
He said that during the massive exodus of Christians from Mosul, after the jihadist group had threatened the population with a heavy tax or death if they did not convert to their brand of Islam, there was panic in the Nineveh Plain and that there was one fatality, which he described as “a man during a tense moment, while trying to cross a checkpoint.”
The patriarch also confirmed news of kidnappings of Christian women, apparently so ISIS can bolster its bank account from ransom money.
But in his appeal to American Catholics, Bishop Pates noted the struggles of Christians and other minorities in Iraq. Militants with the Islamic State have burned and looted churches, homes, and businesses, and have threatened those who do not convert to Sunni Islam.
Bishop Pates also encouraged Catholics to tell their legislators about their concerns for Christians and other religious minorities suffering in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.
Someone launched an online petition at the website of the White House in an effort to get more support for Christians in Iraq from the Obama administration.
“The Christians in Iraq are in a modern day Holocaust,” the petition reads. “They are being forced from their homes and given options to leave on foot or die by the sword by the terrorist group ISIS. They need help in many forms to be able to leave the country for safety. Even if someone does not believe in this religion or any religion for that matter, these are crimes against humanity that shouldn’t be happening. The US Govt. has frozen billions of dollars in Iraqi assets, and some of that money could be used to help grant those people political asylum. Crimes against humanity are being committed and the US has the means and Iraq’s money to help.”
After a weekend of trying to provide food and water by airdrops, and directing military airstrikes at ISIS targets, the Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against the Islamic militants, senior U.S. officials said Monday, AP reported. The aid has so far been limited to automatic rifles and ammunition.
A senior official said the American lethal aid is still not enough to battle the militants, even though Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces were supplemented with similar munitions from Baghdad over the weekend
The additional assistance comes as Kurdish forces on Sunday took back two towns from the Islamic insurgents, aided in part by U.S. airstrikes in the region.
Britain has also provided airdrops of humanitarian aid and pledged to offer military surveillance capability over the siege of the Yazidis.The government is also looking at how Britain — alongside others — can get equipment to Kurdish forces so they can better counter Islamic militants and protect the displaced seeking help in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Other European leaders were also feeling the pressure to respond to the emergency. France called for an urgent meeting of European Union foreign ministers to consider Kurdish requests for arms and an aid airlift to northern Iraq.
In addition to the USCCB call for prayer, the Archdiocese of Washington is encouraging Catholics to say a prayer attributed to St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
The archdiocese is also encouraging fasting. It encourages sharing the story of persecuted Christians on social media under the hashtag “#WeAreN.” The hashtag refers to the first letter of the word “Nusrani,” indicating “Christian.” Militants are painting nun, the Arabic equivalent of “N”, on the homes of Christians to target them for harassment and violence.
In the Archdiocese of New York, Holy Innocents parish is holding a prayer vigil for peace Aug. 11. Marking the feast of the transitus of St. Clare of Assisi, it will include Mass at the parish, followed by a candlelight prayer rally at Manhattan’s Herald Square.
In the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Samuel Aquila will host an interreligious prayer gathering for Middle East peace at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Aug. 11. Together with the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon’s ecumenical and interfaith office, the effort aims to halt the murder of Christians and the destruction of Christians’ homes, properties, and churches.
“Though no simple resolution to these tragedies is readily apparent, we, as people of faith, cannot help but be moved to respond in some way,” Archbishop Aquila said.
The prayer effort also seeks an end to the persecution of Jewish and Muslim minorities in the Middle East.
Representatives at the event will include Catholic and Orthodox Churches from the Middle East; Protestant and Catholic representatives from Western Christianity; and Jews and Muslims.
“We are coming together as a people who believe in God … proud of our diversity, yet honored to call one another brothers and sisters, to celebrate and protect the civilization of diversity, peace, love and co-existence,” said Father Andre-Sebastian Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite parish in Lakewood and director of the Maronite eparchy’s interfaith office.
The prayer service will include readings from the Pentateuch, the New Testament, and the Koran, as well as hymns and prayers for peace.
The Our Father will be chanted in Hebrew, Syro-Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and English. There will be prayers in Arabic, as well.
Archbishop Aquila will deliver a statement expressing solidarity on behalf of the religions gathered.
Catholic News Agency and the Associated Press contributed to this report.