Baghdad, Iraq, Jul 31, 2014 / 23:04 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Aid to the Church in Need has scheduled Aug. 6 as day of prayer for Iraq, portions of which are now controlled by Islamist militants, in response to the violence threatening Christians and others in the nation.
The prayer initiative is being supported by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako, who has composed a text for the day of prayer.
In a message issued for the occasion, Patriarch Sako underscored that Aug. 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, “a feast of the transformation of hearts and minds at the encounter with the light of God’s love for humanity.”
“May the light of Tabor, through our concern, fill the hearts of all suffering people with consolation and hope,” Patriarch Sako concluded.
The day of prayer was inspired by Pope Francis' insistent calls to stop the violence in Iraq.
Johannes von Heereman, president of Aid to the Church in Need, stated that the Pope's appeal at the July 27 Angelus address “prompted us to invite not only Christians, but also the faithful of other religions, and in particular the various Muslim communities who are also suffering very much from the war, to join in a prayer for peace which encompasses the whole world.”
“In view of such suffering as we are forced to watch in Iraq today, it is time to join together with our suffering brothers and sisters and to show the world that we have not abandoned them," von Heereman declared.
Monsignor George Panamthundil, chargé d’affaires at the Holy See nunciature to Iraq, told CNA July 30, “Christian refugees need urgent humanitarian aid: accommodation, food and medicine. Protection of the Christian villages close to territory controlled by the ISIS is needed.”
Some of the Christians displaced from Mosul have fled to the towns of Bakhdida, Bartella, and Bashiqa, all of which are within 30 miles of Mosul. They all suffer from a lack of drinking water, electricity, and medicine, ISIS having cut off their supplies.
Msgr. Panamthundil said he hopes for “a permanent solution for Christian refugees,” which has yet to be developed, alongside the “political process taking place in Baghdad.”
Beyond the global day of prayer, Aid to the Church in Need donated last month some $134,000 to the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul for those who have fled the city, and it continues to collect funds to support the Church in Iraq.
The Congregation for the Oriental Churches sent $50,000 for the same purpose, and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum sent $40,000 on July 24.
The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has also scheduled a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in Iraq, as well as Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, being held today, Aug. 1.
The date was chosen not only as the First Friday of August, but because the Fraternity observes the date as the Feast of St. Peter in Chains.
“It is the feast in which we read of the great power of the persevering prayer of members of the Church: 'Peter therefore was kept in Prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him,'” the FSSP said in a July 22 statement announcing the day of prayer.
“This feast of our Patron should be an invitation to the faithful to join us in Holy Hours and other fitting prayers to beg the Most Holy Trinity that these members of the Mystical Body may persevere in the faith, and that, like St. Peter, they may be delivered from this terrible persecution. May such a day serve as a reminder to us of the stark contrast that stands between our days of vacation and ease, and their daily struggle for survival as they are killed or exiled from their homes.”
The Sunni militant organization ISIS took control of Mosul, in northern Iraq, in June, and on July 18 the group issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city insisting they convert to Islam, pay jizya, or be killed.
Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fled the city, seeking refuge in villages in the Nineveh Plains and Kurdistan.
According to United Nations data, only about 20 Christian families have remained in Mosul.
More than 1 million Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion, but their numbers have now plummeted and observers fear that they could soon be eliminated from the country altogether.
According to Patriarch Sako, Mosul itself had 60,000 Christians prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, which had fallen to 35,000 by this year.