Thursday, November 23, 2006

More trouble for Christians in Lebanon and Iraq.

The last few days have seen more bad news for the beleaguered Christians of Lebanon and Iraq. On Tuesday morning, Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel was gunned down in Beirut by unknown assailants. A member of a prominent Maronite Catholic family and the son of a former president, Gemayel enjoyed strong support from many of his fellow Maronites and attracted a mix of praise and scorn for his criticism of Syrian influence in Lebanon. Gemayel's funeral, held earlier today in Beirut, offered a display of unity among anti-Syria Maronites, Sunni Muslims and Druzes as well as signs of the sectarian divisions that threaten to tear Lebanon apart. These divisions include fissures within the Maronite community itself. As the New York Times reports today, some in the crowd at Gemayel's funeral had harsh words for rival Maronite leader Michel Aoun, who is regarded by many as an ally of Hezbollah and a supporter of Syria. In response to Gemayel's murder, Pope Benedict XVI and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir have both issued calls for peace and unity in a country that has suffered decades of war and division. I hope and pray that these calls will be heeded, and I ask you to join me in this intention.

As tensions rise in Lebanon, the situation of Christians in Iraq continues to deteriorate. On Monday, AsiaNews reported on the disappearance of a Chaldean Catholic priest in Baghdad. A young and dynamic pastor involved in youth ministry and ecumenical relations, Father Doglas Yousef Al Bazy disappeared from his parish on Sunday and is thought to have been kidnapped. If this is indeed the case, Father Al Bazy would be the latest in a string of Christian clerics who have been abducted in Iraq in recent months, including a Syrian Orthodox priest who was beheaded in October. Quoted in the AsiaNews article, Chaldean Catholic bishop Shleman Warduni suggests that the kidnapping and murder of priests may be part of a deliberate effort to drive Christians out of Iraq by "target[ing] those people who are most involved in the Christian community, [especially] the younger and more courageous ones, almost as if to give a warning to those who persist in hoping that they will be able to continue living in the country." Meanwhile, the international Catholic relief agency Caritas has suspended its operations in Mosul after persistent extortion efforts by Islamic militants in the city. Until now, Caritas Mosul had persevered in its mission of serving people of all faiths (ninety percent of its clientele were Muslim) despite the effects of war and social unrest. In recent months, however, Caritas Mosul was inundated with phone calls from an anonymous Muslim group that threatened to commit acts of violence against the Catholic relief agency's employees unless Caritas paid the group an exorbitant sum. Unable to work in the face of continued efforts at intimidation, this week Caritas Mosul closed its doors. This unfortunate event is only the latest in a series of setbacks for Iraq's troubled Christian communities. Prayers and action on their behalf are urgently needed. On this Thanksgiving Day, as we give thanks for God's many blessings upon us, let us also ask for the Father's blessings upon his suffering children. AMDG.


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