In 2013, about 100 million Christians were persecuted and/or martyred around the world simply because of their faith; this number has escalated from the previous year. The persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt has lasted longer than many others. The word E-gypt derives its name from the ancient Copts (Gypts), Eastern Coptic Christians, who have lived there since Early Christianity and long before the Muslims. Egypt is one of the 111 countries where Christian persecution has become rampant, and most of the countries doing the persecuting are dominated by fanatical Muslims.
Genocide of Iraqi Christians
Over the past weekend, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Ferna Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq as a way of expressing his affection and solidarity for the people. Cardinal Filoni is the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of peoples.
Like Coptic Christians and Syrian Christians, Iraqi Christians number among the most ancient of Mideast Christian groups. Both Catholic and Orthodox, they are more familiarly known as Chaldeans from the venerable Assyrian Church. Iraq has been home to them for 2,000 years. Eleven years ago, there were 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Since then, the numbers have plummeted to 400,000.
With horror, the world’s eye is riveted on the genocide of these people by ISIS, the terrorist army of ten-thousand strong, organized with the intent on establishing a caliphate in the northern part of the country, and even beyond. The Iraqi Christians have been given three alternatives: (1) convert to Islam, (2) pay a tax if you wish to remain in your country as Christians, or (3) death by beheading. It’s as simple as that. Last week, some 30,000 Iraqi Christian families fled Mosul when their city was seized by the Islamic military. For the first time in two centuries, Mosul has no Christian population. Churches and monasteries have been looted and destroyed, and throughout the city, there is only devastation of ancestral homes. It’s a city of rocks and rubble.
Mission of ISIS
ISIS is a tightly-knit, tightly-structured army, more barbaric than its relative, Al-Queda, who it is also reported, fears ISIS. The goal of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, world-wide Islamic state, the central headquarters of which will be located in territories they are seizing every day in Iraq. By its own admission, it has resolved to destroy the United States.
Unofficial Statement by Bishop of Iraq
The bishops of Iraq, representing the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, and Armenian Churches, have appealed to the Iraqi government for full protection of the rights of Christian and other minorities. On July 22, 2014, they wrote to Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary General, entreating him to insure the following:
1. Full protection of our rights and those of other minorities.
2. Financial support for the displaced families who have lost everything, in addition to paying and sustaining civil servant salaries, as soon as possible.
3. Compensate for damages and losses suffered by Christians . . . to provide shelter and educational facilities so that displaced students can continue their studies.
Response of the USCCB
Recently, American Bishops George Murray, S.J. and Gerarld Kicanas returned from the area after having studied the situation there. On July 25th, 2014, Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent a letter to Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the second in two months, to plead for US humanitarian aid for these beleaguered people and that it be directly sent to the minority communities through trusted NGOs. At this writing, two large convoys of food have been air-dropped to sustain these people. August 17th has been designated for American Catholic parishes to pray for peace in Iraq and for Christians and other minority groups suffering there. We must believe that our prayers can and will help in this war against Christians.
As the Mideast Turns
Much of the world, including the Mideast, lives in violence and/or war. We worry about the children, their emotional and religious development; for the time being, they are condemned to their fate. What of their future to mature into young men and women devoted to the faith of the venerable faith of their ancestors?
The genocide of Iraqi Christians brings to mind the persecution of the Early Christians when faced with the same threats by civil emperors. Daily do we see pictures of Iraqis as they trudge and trek away from their homeland, expelled from it. Here we see examples of the ‘holy family,’ mothers, fathers, babes in arms. All they own they are wearing. In their wretched faces, we see the face of the suffering Christ. Psalm 107 describes the scene:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their need
And he rescued them from their distress;
And he led them along the right way,
To reach a city in which to dwell.”
Why not offer the Iraqi Christians and other minorities refugee status and bring them to the United States under the sponsorship of agencies, faith-groups, and families? Despite obvious objections, such a humanitarian gesture could be transformed into a graced event.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.