Saturday, December 20, 2008

Iraqi Christians on the Run

Christians, one of the oldest and most silent minority communities in Iraq, are facing an ever increasing displacement, death and destruction because of sectarian and extremist harassment and violence. Before the US invasion in March, 2003, about a million Christians comprised of 5 percent of the total population. In the last five years their number shrank to less than 3 percent.

According to the Annuario Pontificio 2008, about 66 percent of Iraqi Christians are Catholics belonging to the Chaldean Church. Others belong to the Armenian, Assyrian and Syriac Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Twenty Percent of All Iraqi Refugees Abroad Are Christians

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See providing humanitarian support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, reports that around 400,000 or 40 percent, of Christians fled the country and they make up around 20 percent of all Iraqi refugees. From the 600,000 Christians remaining in the country, many are displaced to Northern Iraq.

One Archbishop Killed

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho

Carl Hetu, CNEWA Canada National General Secretary, writes in its newsletter: "On Easter Sunday 2008, as Christians everywhere celebrated Jesus' resurrection, the Christians of Iraq took no joy in the most joyous day of the liturgical year. Instead, they were grieving for Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the martyred leader of the Chaldean Church in Mosul, and lamenting the fate of their troubled religious community."

In late February, 2008, religious extremists kidnapped the archbishop and two weeks later his body was found in a shallow grave. Carl Hetu continues: "The martyrdom of Archbishop Rahho is a perfect symbol of the tragedy that has befallen the Church in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussain's fall from power, extremists and criminals have kidnapped and murdered men, women and children. They have burned churches and driven families from their homes. After five years of war, few Christians remain in central Iraq. Thousands have fled to the north of the country and still more are leaving it entirely."

Pope Benedict XVI has called on Catholics to reach out to "our beleaguered brothers and sisters in Christ."

After the US invasion of Iraq, extremists began to suspect that local Christians were in league with the Americans. Consequently, Christians have been facing numerous harassment and violence.

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