From the Bishops Atrocities in the Middle East: the killing of Christians

The jihadists’ video of the savage beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley on Aug. 19 has lifted the heavy pall of silence surrounding the brutalities of our day. With increasing horror, there is now being brought to light the systematic elimination of Christians taking place from North Africa to Syria and Iraq. In parts of the world where Christianity predates the rise of the Muslim faith by centuries, at least one million Christians have either been killed or have fled because of persecution.

The barbaric acts of beheading, crucifixion, rape, and infanticide are not always reported. Syria was once a place where Christians and Muslims lived as neighbors. Today, it has become an arena for horrible atrocities. The media have been reporting the bloodbath of vendettas carried out by Islamic jihadists against fellow Muslims. However, for whatever reason, the same media had been passing over in silence the jihadists’ killing of Christians for refusing to embrace Islam. At least, until now.

Sister Raghida, once the head of a Christian school in Damascus went public on radio in April of this year. She shocked listeners when she described the actions of jihadists who entered Maaloula in Syria. In this ancient Christian village where the inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, the jihadists went on a killing spree, taking the lives of men, women, and children.

They crucified two youths for refusing to proclaim Islam's credo. They made the father of one of the young men watch in horror and, then, killed him. They went as far as to rip babies from the wombs of their pregnant mothers and hang them from a tree by their umbilical cords. In Deir Hafer, in the province of Aleppo, they took prisoners, crucified them and left their bodies in the main square for three days.

When ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) took over Mosul in Iraq, they painted the letter “N” for Nazarene on the houses of all the surviving Christians in the city. They offered Christians three choices. Convert to Islam. Pay the ‘jizya’ tax, making them second-class citizens. Or die by the sword. When Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, there were more than 60,000 Christians living in Mosul. Today, there are, at most, 200 Christians who are too poor or too weak to flee.

On Aug. 9, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Archbishop Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now living in exile, made the tragic announcement, “I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead.” He made a dire prediction about our future, when he stated, “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you … will also suffer in the near future…Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.”

On Aug. 5, Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako sent a letter to Pope Francis, to bishops in the Middle East and to the presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world. He spoke of the world’s silence about the plight of Christians in his country. For the past several years, the Patriarch has been appealing to those outside Iraq to take notice of what is occurring there. He is convinced that, without immediate international intervention, we will witness the extermination of the ancient Christian community of Iraq.

In a statement issued Aug. 24th, Patriarch Sako said that “Iraqi Christians, along with other minorities, have received a fatal blow at the core of their lives and their existence.” He called on the international community, especially the United States and the European Union, to become more involved. He issued an appeal to the Muslim community to be more involved as well. Sadly, he noted that the Muslim responses “about the barbaric acts in the name of their religion practiced against the life, dignity and freedom of Christians were not according to our expectation, knowing that Christians have contributed and fought for this country, living in partnership with their Muslim brothers alongside the Islamic civilization.”

In a similar fashion, the Vatican has appealed to Muslim leaders to "unambiguously denounce and condemn" the barbaric practices of the Islamic State. It even suggested that their credibility may be damaged if they do not do so. On Aug. 12, The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogues, the Vatican department which works with the Muslims, said that the massacre of Christians along with other religious and ethnic minorities cannot be justified by any religion and “brings shame on humanity.”

Speaking during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, on Aug. 21, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sounded the alarm. He said that Islamic State militants “are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else.” He noted that they are far more powerful and dangerous than anything else we have seen. They have a highly sophisticated military prowess to execute their ideology. Their goal is to establish a Caliphate, i.e. an Islamic state led by a caliph (successor), who takes the place of Muhammad as the supreme religious and political leader. The last caliphate was abolished on Oct. 29, 1923 by Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.

Good people of every faith, and even those of no faith, cannot stand by idly as horrible crimes and atrocities are daily committed against others. In the face of such evil, we look to our leaders to put aside their fears and political correctness and to realistically address the threat of radicals bent on imposing their beliefs and laws on the world through violence, terrorism and fear. The daily report of beheadings, rapes, castrations and massacres, along with the destruction, burning and looting of churches, homes and businesses, cannot inure us to our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. The blood of Abel cries out to heaven.

As individuals who are horrified at atrocities committed against those of our own faith and others as well, we cannot remain silent. Our first word must be a prayer to God who alone can change the human heart. Therefore, I am asking all the faithful of our diocese to join with me, when at Mass or at home, to earnestly implore God to stay the scourge of persecution sweeping the Middle East. Let us pray to our most loving God to banish the evil that lurks within the human heart, to place within those who hate the light to see others as their brothers and sisters and to swiftly end the persecution of all good people.


O God, Father of all and lover of peace, through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel, be our protection against all evil.
Send your holy angels to protect and guide all those who suffer persecution. Strengthen their faith and enliven their hope. Deliver them speedily from all danger. Remove indifference from our hearts and, with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, inspire all world leaders to work effectively for peace in our day. With your divine assistance, may we overcome violence with compassion, war with peace, and thus establish your law of love and justice on this earth.
Through Christ our Lord.


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