Eight churches in Baghdad, Iraq, have been forced to close for good because of the significant drop in attendance caused by 15 years of Christians’ continued exodus from the country due to persecution and violence.
(REUTERS / Thaier Al-Sudani)Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad, Iraq December 25, 2016.
After almost seven years of having significantly low or zero attendance, the Vatican decided to permanently close eight churches in Baghdad in May. The decision was made after regional Catholic Church officials inspected the said houses of worship, International Christian Concern detailed.
The closure of the eight churches in Baghdad signalled a defeat for the Church in the said city. Christians used to make up 10 percent of Iraq’s total population, but years of continuous persecution, displacement, and conflict have taken a toll on that number.
In 2005 and 2006, sectarian conflicts erupted in Baghdad, causing Christians to flee their homes as they were threatened with death. In 2010, a suicide terror attack in the middle of a Sunday evening mass killed 58 Christians and injured 78 others, but the incident did not erase Christianity from the face of the country.
The rise of the Islamic State in 2014 was the latest of the string of incidents in the last 15 years which led to the exodus of Christians from Iraq. The jihadist group’s atrocities against religious minorities caused many Christians to be displaced, leaving only a fraction of what their original community used to be.
Earlier this year, Canon Andrew White — who is known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” — expressed fear that Christianity in Iraq has come to an end. He told Fox News that ideally, some Christians should remain to preserve their historical presence. However, many are choosing to leave and are unlikely to return.
“The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited,” White told Fox back then. “The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough.”
In light of the situation, White called on American Christians to take notice of the suffering of their Iraqi counterparts. Aside from merely praying for peace, these persecuted believers are also in need of food, clothes, and other resources.