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Patriarch: While Politicians Argue, Iraqi Christians Continue to Die

Iglesia bombardeada en Irak – en


John Burger - published on 08/25/14

In latest appeal, Chaldean leader describes conditions in refugee camps.
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Since August 6, when thousands of Christians fled an onslaught of Islamic militants in northern Iraq, no "concrete solutions" to the crisis have been found, said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Louis Sako of Baghdad in a new appeal Sunday. 

The president of Iraq’s bishps’ conference has been very vocal since the Islamic State, establishing a modern-day caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, have forced members of religious minorities from their ancestral homelands and undertaken a campaign of beheadings, crucifixions and enslavement.

Pope Francis recently sent a personal envoy to the region, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the patriarch accompanied him during his visit. Describing the visits to refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, particularly in Erbil and Dohok, the patriarch commented, "What I saw and what I heard is beyond any imagination.
" Christians and other minorities, he said, have received "a terrible blow" to the "heart of their life," and they are deprived of all rights, property, and documents.

The Chaldean Patriarchate speaks of "continuous persecution" of militants against unarmed Christian civilians, including children, AsiaNews reported. In Baghdida, one of the cities of the Nineveh plain, ISIS militants seized Ebada Khader, a child of only three years, "literally tearing her from the arms of her family." The militiamen kidnapped the girl and forced the family to leave their home, dragging them to the checkpoint Khazar. Christian sources in the city of Bashiqa, one of the towns north of Mosul, instead describe having found the bodies of two Christian men, who died of hunger and malnutrition in their home. 

And while "the flow of money, weapons and combatants" into the hands of the Islamic State continues unabated, Patriarch Sako complained that the world "has not yet understood the gravity of the situation."

Recent events, though, seem to be changing that, in particular, the gruesome killing of American freelance journalist James Foley. News that government intelligence services in the UK have identified a British fighter suspected of murdering Foley has increased awareness of the danger posed by Western mercenaries among the membership of the Islamic State. Experts have warned that such members, who hold Western passports, pose a danger to the United States and other western countries in terms of carrying out terrorist attacks.

President Barack Obama, who has ordered limited air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, is said to be facing decisions about whether to expand that fight into Syria. The U.S. has been in talks with Britain, France, Australia and Canada on how they can become more involved in confronting Islamic State by sharing intelligence, providing military assistance to Kurdish forces in Iraq and to moderate opposition forces in Syria, and if necessary, participating in military action, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Meanwhile, the government in Baghdad and its Iranian ally have launched an appeal to the international community for a joint plan of action against the militias of the Islamic State. Yesterday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made an official visit to the Iraqi capital, where he met with outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, the Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jubouri and President Hoshyar Zebari. During the press conference, theTehran representative denied the presence of Iranian troops on the ground in the war against the Islamist militias; he hoped at the same time for a joint international operation against ISIS.

But while world leaders strategize, many Christians in Iraq are already planning to leave the region, a reality which Patriarch Sako fears will lead to "the dissolution of the history, heritage and identity of this people."

"We respect the reasons of those who want to emigrate, but for those who wish to remain, we underline our long history and deeply rooted heritage in this land," he said. "God has his own plan for our presence in this land and invites us to carry the message of love, brotherhood, dignity, and harmonious co-existence."

Christian emigration from the Middle East has long been a concern, and the present crisis has ramped up that concern. Eastern Catholic bishops in the Middle East, meeting recently in Lebanon, expressed disapproval of "some European countries" encouraging Christian emigration. 

"This is a matter of which we disapprove, condemn and reject. We tenaciously hold on to the idea of performing our mission in this beloved region," the religious leaders said a statement issued after the meeting, held at the seat of Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Patriarch of Antioch and all Maronites of the East, in Dimane. "Therefore, we request from the international community through the United Nations Security Council to make a decisive resolution that is necessary to return the dispersed peoples to their lands; this being expedited by all possible means. We are not seeking for protection from anyone, rather we have rights, and we deem that it is the international body’s duty to protect its credibility and to prevent all demographic changes that may occur by force and from other religions."

Patriarch Sako said the phenomenon of migration has a "big impact" on both Christians and Muslims because "Iraq is losing an irreplaceable component" of its society.

He called for "urgent and effective international support from all the people of good will to save the Christians and Yezidis, genuine components of the Iraqi society from extinction, knowing that silence and passivity will encourage ISIS fundamentalists to commit more tragedies."

Cardinal Filoni told Catholic News Agency, that when he visited refugees in Iraq, many told him, “If the international authorities provide a protected zone for us around our villages, our territory, we should go back there.”

The patriarch also had some criticism for the Muslim community, whose statements about the "barbarism" of the militia of the Islamic State, perpetrated in the name of their own religion, he said has done little to ensure respect for and defense of the dignity of Christians.

"Religious fundamentalism is still growing in its power and force, creating tragedies, and making us wonder when the Islamic religious scholars and the Muslim intellectuals will critically examine this dangerous phenomenon and eradicate it by educating a true religious consciousness and spreading a genuine culture of accepting the other as brother and as an equal citizen with full rights," he said.

The Eastern Catholic bishops meeting in Lebanon also expressed dismay about the overall silence from the Islamic community around the world. "We express our strong condemnation and rejection for the expulsion of Christians from Mosul, and from the cities and villages of Ninawa," said their statement. "These same cities and villages have established a noble heritage of cohabitation between Christians and Muslims, just like in other ancient Arab cities. We are sounding an alarm about this danger and demand that universal sorrow be expressed and that it come from all Muslims; our partner in progress."

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, came out recently saying that ISIS is the first enemy of Islam, according to Aleteia’s Arabic edition, however. 

Christians in the Middle EastIraqIslamist Militants
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