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The Iraqi city of Mosul is empty of Christians for the first time in the history of the country, the country's most senior Chaldean Catholic said.
Patriarch Louis Sako said the city’s Christians – who until last month numbered a few thousand – were fleeing for the neighbouring autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Christian families abandoned homes and belongings and some were robbed of their vehicles by the jihadists and forced to flee on foot. Some Dominican nuns based in nearby Qaraqosh said that the jihadists had demanded the Christians hand over money, personal documents, passports, cars, and all valuable items.
The exodus followed an ultimatum from jihadists with the Islamic State (IS) to Christians last week that they had to either leave, convert to Islam, pay protection money or die.
The terrorists began marking homes belonging to Christians with the Arabic letter "N," standing for the Arabic word "Nasrani" or “Nazarene” a name for Christians. They also marked homes of Shia Muslims with an “R” for “Rafidheen” (rejection) to indicate the inhabitants’ rejection of IS’s control.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged social media users to show their concern for Iraqi Christians by adopting the hashtag #WeAreN. He tweeted on Wednesday: "Share solidarity of prayer and love with victims of terrible suffering in Iraq, especially threatened Christians of Mosul. #WeAreN."
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, told the religious advocacy group Release: "Christians have lost their trust in the land and in the future. Since 2003 [the allied invasion of Iraq], two-thirds of the Christians have left the country. The attack on Christians has been immense. In the future I imagine Iraq becoming a country where you have many Christian sites, just for tourism – due to the families that are leaving."
The terrorists seized power in large parts of northern Iraq and Syria last month and declared the area a “caliphate”.
IS jihadists on Sunday took over one of the country's best-known Christian landmarks, a fourth-century monastery south-east of Mosul, and expelled its monks.
One of the Syriac clergy told AFP that the terrorists had told the five brothers at the Mar (Saint) Behnam monasteryin Qaraqosh: "You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately."
He said the monks pleaded to be allowed to save some of the monastery's relics but the fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes.
Pope Francis urged people to pray for Christians in Mosul. He said on Sunday: “Our brothers are persecuted, they are cast out, they are forced to leave their homes without having the chance to take anything with them. To these people I wish to express my closeness and my constant prayer. Dear brothers and sisters, so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you have been deprived of everything. I am with you in faith in he who conquered evil.”
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency food, shelter and medicine to Christians who fled have Mosul in recent weeks.
In London, five Iraqi Eastern Churches are organising a demonstration on Saturday 26 July at 12pm in front of the Houses of Parliament to express their solidarity with Christians in Iraq and draw attention to their plight.
Above: After fleeing the violence in Mosul an Iraqi Christian family takes refuge inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church eight miles away in Telkaif. Photo: CNS/Reuters