- Exodus of biblical proportions
Hounded out of their homes by Islamist violence, Iraqi Christians face what many fear may be their final festive season in the land of their fathers as many prepare for exile
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Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin arrived in Kurdistan yesterday to “express solidarity in flesh and blood” with Iraqi Christians expelled from Mosul by the Islamic State radicals.
Received in Erbil by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the cardinal celebrated Mass in the city’s cathedral and announced his archdiocese would be twinned with that of Mosul, now all but emptied of Christians after the new “caliphate” in northern Iraq ordered them to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face death.
Speaking before leaving France, Barbarin said his delegation wanted to do more than simply send money to fellow Christians in distress. “As Paul said in his Epistle to the Romans, we must weep with those who weep,” he said.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, also spoke of his fears for Christians in Iraq during a pastoral visit to the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in San Diego, California, on Sunday.
In response to his homily, Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Hermiz Jammo said that Chaldean Catholics would keep their faith even if they were driven from their homeland, and like Abraham, they would trust God to lead them to a new land.
Meanwhile the head of Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that supports persecuted Christians, said the British Government bore some responsibility for the situation in Iraq. Neville Kyrke-Smith said: “The UK’s balanced approach to uprisings in the Middle East – supporting rebels as long as they are not too extreme – has blown up in our face.” He called on the Government to protect Christians and other minorities suffering persecution.
Protestors took to the streets in London, Paris, Washington DC, the southern Dutch city of the Hague and the Iraqi city of Irbil to draw attention to the plight of Mosul’s Christians.
In London hundreds of Christians, including Iraqi Christians and Muslims, gathered in Parliament Square and marched towards Whitehall to demand the UK Government end its silence over the expulsion of the Christian in Mosul.
In Washington several hundred protestors, including Bishop Mar Paulus Benjamin of the Assyrian Church of the East, gathered in front of the White House to demand US President Barack Obama take action.
In England, the chairman of the bishops’ conference’s international department Bishop Declan Lang, condemned IS’s actions as “crimes against humanity”.
“This threat to Iraqi citizens is a sin against God and a violation against life,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Meanwhile the Church of England published three prayers by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, for Christians in Mosul – “for those forced to flee their homes, all who have lost friends, family and possessions and who now face an uncertain future”.
And Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders issued a joint statement, expressing “horror” at what was being done in the name of religion in the region – “an appalling blot on the proud tradition” of more than 1,700 years of pluralism.
The signatories, including Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal, European Chief Rabbi emeritus René-Samuel Sirat and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (Ecumenical Patriarchate) urged faith leaders not to dole out “rigid statements drawn from the misinterpretations of religious beliefs” and let their places of worship “devolve into venues that separate us from each other”.
Western countries have turned a blind eye to the cleansing of Mosul’s Christians 25 July 2014 by Robert Ewan
Photos from London courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need; from Irbil via CNS/Reuters