- 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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The leaders of Iraq’s Christian communities met in Kurdistan yesterday to entreat the international community to protect their people.
The Patriarchs of the Orient told persecuted Christians “your pain is our pain” as they flew into the northern city of Irbil, where thousands of refugees have taken shelter.
Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Alrai, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church Ignatius Ephrem II Karim, Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Rafael Sako, Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III Lahham and Syriac Catholic Patriarch Mor Ignatius Joseph III Youna also stopped in the city of Ankawa and prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic with refugees.
Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholics, told reporters that the patriarchs wanted persecuted Christians, Muslims and Yezidis to be allowed to remain in their homeland.
“We cannot stand idly by and watch as evil oppresses the people. We will carry our cause to the whole world,” he said.
Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that the delegation received a promise from the Kurdish authorities that Christians will be protected “until the last drop of blood.”
Pope Francis today met with his personal envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who has returned to Rome after a week-long visit.
On his return journey from his visit to Korea this week, Pope Francis lamented the growing number of conflicts across the globe saying that we “are now in World War III”.
He told journalists on board the papal plane: “Today we are in a world at war everywhere. A man said to me, ‘Father we are in World War III, but spread out in small pockets everywhere.’ He was right.”
In an extraordinary intervention, the Pope on Monday implied that military action might be necessary to stop the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq though he ruled out the use of bombs. More than 100,000 Christians have been driven from their homes by Islamist terrorists.
He said that he is considering going to northern Iraq himself to show solidarity with those who have been murdered, raped and driven from their homes by the IS. He added that strong measures were “justified” - so long as this was by widespread agreement and not only the acts of one country. “In those cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor,” he said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop’. I don't say ‘to bomb’ or to ‘make war’, but to ‘stop’.”
Francis went on to lament the specific horrors of contemporary warfare. We should be “frightened at the level of cruelty that has become the norm in modern warfare”, he said. “Today children do not count. Once they spoke about a conventional war, today that does not count. I’m not saying that conventional wars were good things, but today a bomb is sent and it kills the innocent, the guilty, children, women they kill everybody. No! We must stop and think a little about the level of cruelty at which we have arrived. This should frighten us.”
The Pope went on to condemn the way torture had become “almost ordinary”. “I tell Catholics that to torture a person is a mortal sin, a grave sin. But it’s more, it’s a sin against humanity,” he said.
Last week the Vatican called on Muslim leaders to “unambiguously” denounce the persecution by the IS and suggested that it will break off relations with those who do not. The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue said: “The dramatic situation of the Christians, the Yazidis, and other minority religious and ethnic communities in Iraq demands that religious leaders, and above all Muslim religious leaders, people engaged in inter-religious dialogue and all people of good will take a clear and courageous stance. All must be unanimous in their unambiguous condemnation of these crimes and denounce the invoking of religion to justify them.”
Above: Elderly Iraqi woman fleeing violence gestures at refugee camp. Photo: CNS photo/Morris Bernard, UNHCR handout via E PA