Churches burn as Iraq’s persecuted Christians are forced to abandon homes
by Gerard O’Connell
“Today our brothers are persecuted” – the Pope has said, referring to the plight of Christians from the city of Mosul, in northern Iraq. “They are banished from their homes and forced to flee without even being able to take their belongings!”
Tragically, as he spoke, the last Christians had just left Mosul, leaving behind churches shattered by violence. Reports have reached the west of churches desecrated and violated; of an 1,800-year-old Syriac Catholic church burnt down.
This in a city where Christians had lived for centuries side-by-side with Muslims. When the Americans and British forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003 there were 60,000 Christians in Mosul; today, there are none!
As John Paul II predicted, that war against Iraq in 2003 has had terrible consequences, which are still being felt today in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, and the Christians are among those who have suffered most.
The Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Sako, in an interview with Vatican Radio said: “Iraq is on the brink of a cultural and historic disaster”
Two months ago there were around 30,000 Christians in Mosul but last week every Christian had fled the city. The alternative was to either convert to Islam and pay a heavy tax to the new ‘Caliphate’ of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – an extremist offshoot of Al Qaeda – or die.
Many Muslims in Iraq have come out in public support of the Christians, with some in Baghdad carrying placards saying, “I too am a Christian.”
In Mosul, a university law professor was murdered by ISIS after he spoke out against the persecution of Christians.
Pope Francis is following the atrocities in the country, and elsewhere in the Middle East, closely. especially in Gaza.
Last Sunday, speaking from the papal study window to thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, he assured the persecuted Christians of Mosul of his closeness to them and his constant prayer to God for them.
“My dear brothers and sisters who are persecuted, I know how much you suffer; I know that you are deprived of all. I am with you in faith in the One who conquered evil”, he told them in a voice filled with emotion.
He then appealed to all to persevere in praying for peace in all situations of tension and conflict in the world, and he especially mentioned the Middle East and Ukraine. He called on them for a moment of “silent prayer.”