Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Archbishop's appeal: Save Iraq's Christians!

Though we've entered the season of the Resurrection, the Passion continues for Iraq's suffering Christians. Rome-based Catholic news agency AsiaNews (which has offered far more complete coverage of this crisis than the secular media) has posted two articles in the last couple days that show that the situation of Iraqi Christians is worsening even in the ostensibly 'safe' region of Nineveh. Yesterday, AsiaNews published a pressing appeal from Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, who has emerged as one of the most articulate and outspoken leaders of the Church in Iraq. Archbishop Sako warns that in his country "the Church is disappearing under continued persecution [and] threats and violence carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile." Long subject to blackmail, kidnapping and terrorist attacks in major urban centers like Baghdad and Mosul, Iraqi Christians now face similar violence in Nineveh, an area promoted in recent months as a viable 'safe zone' where Christians could take refuge. According to Archbishop Sako, attacks on Christians in Nineveh are meant to send a very clear message: "It's almost a political gesture, as if to say, 'We can hit anywhere, nowhere is safe.'"

In a chilling confirmation of Archbishop Sako's words, the Christian village of Tell-el-skop near Mosul was hit yesterday by a suicide bombing. The blast wounded 140 and killed 10, including two children, and caused substantial damage to a Catholic primary school run by Dominican nuns. Following the attack, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Rabban al-Qas of Amadiyah and Erbil issued what AsiaNews calls a virtual "ultimatum" to the Holy See: "Find a way, a means to save us. The Church in all of Iraq is in great danger. We beg the Vatican to help us bring our voices to the world." Though I hope and pray that the voices of the Chaldean bishops will be heeded, I also wonder what can be done to improve a very desperate situation. Archbishop Sako and other members of the Catholic hierarchy in Iraq have issued many previous warnings on the growing persecution of Christians in the country - see these posts from October, November, December and January. Archbishop Sako has also offered strong opposition to the Nineveh safe zone plan backed by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The Archbishop has urged that, instead of packing Christians into a small enclave where they could be more vulnerable to attack, the Iraqi government should make stronger efforts to protect the rights of religious minorities at a national level. With the threat to Christians rising across Iraq, Sako's worst fears are apparently being realized. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: pray for the people of Iraq, and tell others - including your elected officials - what is happening to them. AMDG.


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