Canberra, Australia, Dec 3, 2014 / 02:01 am
The Australian bishops have declared that Dec. 7 will be a day of solidarity throughout the country with Christians in the Middle East, a large number of whom have been threatened or displaced by the Islamic State.
The designation followed a request seeking the support of Catholics in Australia which came from the expatriate Middle Eastern Apostolic Churches in Australia and New Zealand.
"The request comes as we approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas," a Nov. 27 statement from the Australian bishops' conference noted.
"We are aware that the situation for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is deteriorating by the day, especially as the northern winter will set in soon."
The day of solidarity is to involve prayer and financial offering for suffering Christians, particularly those Iraqis who have become refugees.
Archbishop Djibrail Kassab, of the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Sydney, said that "all the Christians of Iraq desperate need our prayers and support. These, our wounded brothers and sisters, were brutally forced to leave their hometowns and all their belongings in order to remain faithful to Jesus Christ."
Archbishop Kassab is shepherd of the more than 31,000 Chaldean Catholics in Australia. Most are expatriates from Iraq; the archbishop was himself born in Tall Kayf, which is near Mosul and which was seized by the Islamic State earlier this year.
On Dec. 14, Archbishop Kassab and four other Australian bishops will travel to Iraqi Kurdistan and to Lebanon to offer spiritual support and humanitarian aid. The Chaldean archbishop will be joined by the other two Middle Eastern bishops of Australia, Bishop Antoine Tarabay of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Sydney and Bishop Robert Rabbat of the Melkite Eparchy of Saint Michael's of Sydney, as well as Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulborn and Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart.
"Communities that have been present in the region since apostolic times are being driven out in the midst of unspeakable atrocities," the bishops' statement read. "The present tragedy in the Middle East not only impacts upon the communities of the area, but has far-reaching implications for the peace and security of the world."
Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said, "We hear the plea of our brother bishops from the Eastern Churches and we join them in expressing our grave concerns about the suffering of the Christian communities, that trace their roots back to apostolic times, and the danger of their gradual disappearance from their ancient homelands."
In Australia, there are 150,000 Maronite Catholics, many of them from Lebanon, and 50,000 Melkite