George W. Bush was eager to go into their country and Barack Obama was eager to get out. By a painful coincidence, the disparate exigencies of these two American presidents have come together to help create conditions for a tragedy of historic proportions now being experienced by the Iraqi Christian community.
The tragedy reached a bloody climax Oct. 31 when terrorists stormed into the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad. Before it was over, 58 Christians had been killed, including two priests, and 75 injured. As the slaughter was taking place, a three-year-old boy named Adam wandered amid the carnage pleading with the killers to stop. Finally they killed him, too. That’s what you do in a holy war, I guess.
Before the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqi Christian community numbered about 900,000. Now it’s about 350,000. Most of the rest are refugees stranded in camps in Syria and Jordan. Terrorists like the ones who stormed the cathedral in Baghdad are most directly to blame of course. But the U.S. needs to shoulder its share of responsibility and take quick and effective action to relieve the plight of these people.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made that point in a Nov. 10 letter to President Obama.
“Having invaded Iraq,” he said, “our nation has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.” Among the minimum steps necessary, according to the cardinal, are strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi military and police to provide security for everybody, “including minorities,” promoting human rights, especially religious freedom, rebuilding the country’s “shattered” economy, and assisting Iraqi refugees.
Toward the end of last month, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for the protection of Iraqi religious minorities. The action was praised by chairmen of bishops’ conference committees for international justice and peace and migration. No doubt it was a welcome gesture, but a congressional resolution is only words on paper.