- 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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In a demonstration affirming their determination to live side by side, Jordanian Muslims and Christians walked hand-in-hand in a march last Saturday evening, 23 August, to denounce the violence in Gaza, Iraq and the entire region.
Starting from Abdali, where the King Abdullah I mosque stands next to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the participants walked to Jabal Luweibdeh as the Muslim call for prayer and church bells were heard at the same time to show the unity of Jordanians. The demonstrators held banners that read: “Muslims and Christians are together.”
The demonstration took place as German bishops called on Muslim leaders across the world to be far more forthright in their opposition to the Islamic State, as its terrorist army took over Syria’s north-eastern Raqqa province, whose main town is the “capital” of the self-proclaimed IS caliphate. The IS also controls the Iraqi city of Mosul and much of northern and western Iraq, and has imposed its rule through almost unimaginable brutality.
Warning that it would be wrong to see all Muslims as enemies, the bishops called on “Muslim religious and political leaders to take up position. The vast majority of peace-loving Muslims must ask themselves which factors lie behind the frightening development in their own religious community. Merely to point at the missed opportunities and the blame which lie outside Islamic culture is not enough.”
The Vienna-based King Abdullah Centre for Inter-Religious and Inter-Cultural Dialogue (KAICIID) took the initiative of setting up an “international front” against the IS. “We want to bring religious leaders and political decision makers together in order to put a stop to terrorism,” KAICIID vice-general secretary, Claudia Bandion-Ortner, said on 23 August.
A list of religious leaders condemning the “Islamic State” on the KAICIID homepage included the Grand Muftis of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt and the Head of Religious Affairs in Turkey.
On Sunday the Custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Fr Pierbattista Pizzabella, told a meeting in Rimini that the entire Middle East is undergoing a profound transformation. “The kind of relations or non-relations that for 40 years have characterised these countries of the Middle East have ended definitively,” he said. “The Middle East is in flames.”
Like most church leaders, Fr Pizzabella went on to argue that “political, economic and probably military” intervention would be needed to protect the Christian and other minority communities of the Middle East. Clearly, the Islamic State’s “fanaticism must be stopped, if necessary even with force,” he said.
However he went on to argue that this “would not save Christianity in the Middle East”. “Their presence will be saved by the little ones, by those who courageously step up and challenge death, selflessly loving their brothers and sisters,” he insisted, adding that “new signs of caring for and protecting one another can be seen in almost every community”.
Meanwhile the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a message of condolence on behalf of Pope Francis for the family of the US journalist James Foley, beheaded on video by a British IS terrorist.
Above: Palestinians celebrate cease-fire in Gaza. Photo: CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA.