Catholic bishops in the U.S. expressed their solidarity with Iraqi Christians after Islamic militants stormed a cathedral in Baghdad, killing more than 50 faithful and wounding over 70.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also said that the United States has “failed” to safeguard Christians in Iraq and stressed the moral obligation the U.S. has to protect the human rights of those within the country.
On Oct. 31, gunmen linked to al Qaeda took over 120 faithful hostage at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation during Mass, demanding that the Coptic Church of Egypt release the wife of one of its priests, whom the extremists claim voluntarily converted to Islam and was locked up by the Church.
After the Iraqi military raided the church to free the hostages, over 50 people, including 3 priests, were killed. Vatican Radio reported that between 70 and 80 people are seriously wounded from the attack, many of them women and children.
Pope Benedict lamented the disaster after he prayed the Angelus on Nov. 1. He condemned the “savage” attack and offered prayers for the victims.
Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, said on Tuesday that the incident has “shocked and horrified” the Catholic community.
“We join Pope Benedict XVI in expressing our profound sorrow at this savage violence and offer our heartfelt prayers for the victims, their families, and the Church and people of Iraq,” Cardinal George said in a statement Nov. 2.
Referring to the recent synod of bishops on the Church in the Middle East, the prelate recalled that “bishops from Iraq spoke of the perilous situation facing Christians and other minorities in that country,” which included human rights violations such as “kidnappings for ransom; bombings of churches, schools, and other property occupied by Christians; threats to Christian-run businesses and livelihoods; and the death of Archbishop Rahho and other priests following kidnappings.”
“Together with this most recent murderous attack, this pattern points to an appalling lack of basic security. Many Christians have been forced to leave their homes or have fled abroad in search of safety. Many have little hope of return to Iraq in the near future.”
“The United States bears responsibility for working effectively with the Iraqi government to stem the violence,” he underscored. “Our Conference of Bishops raised grave moral questions prior to the United States military intervention in Iraq and then called for a ‘responsible transition.’”
“While we welcomed the end of U.S.-led combat in Iraq, we share the Iraqi bishops’ concern that the United States failed to help Iraqis in finding the political will and concrete ways needed to protect the lives of all citizens, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities, and to ensure that refugees and displaced persons are able to return to their homes safely,” Cardinal George wrote.
“Having invaded Iraq, the U.S. government has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves,” he stressed.
“We offer our prayers and solidarity with the suffering Christians of Iraq at this terrible time of loss and horrific violence. We stand with the bishops, Church and people of Iraq in their urgent search for greater security, freedom and protection. We call upon the United States to take additional steps to help Iraq protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable.”