By John Pontifex
ANOTHER church in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk has been bombed bringing the tally to three within less than two weeks.
Nobody was hurt in the explosion which took place today (Monday, 15 August 2011) at 1.30am local time.
Parish priest Father Gewargis Elias was lucky to escape with his family when security staff spotted a vehicle carrying suspicious devices and ordered him out of St Ephremâ€™s Syrian Orthodox Church just minutes before the blast.
Reporting the incident, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: â€œToday they attacked another church. Who knows if tomorrow they will attack the clergy or the people?â€
The archbishop was speaking after St Ephremâ€™s became the third church in Kirkuk to be attacked so far this month.
Almost exactly two weeks earlier, again early in the morning, car bombs exploded at Holy Family Syrian Catholic Church and the nearby Evangelical church.
At least 13 people in homes close to Holy Family Church were injured â€“ mostly slightly.
Archbishop Sako said todayâ€™s bomb in the city centre was far bigger, leaving a huge hole in the main wall, smashing pews and other church fittings.
The archbishop himself was woken by the blast which went off less than 1km from Archbishopâ€™s House where windows were broken.
Returning from a visit to St Ephremâ€™s Church, Archbishop Sako said evidence showed the attack had been carefully planned.
He said: â€œI saw many people in the church when I was there. They were so very tired and shocked. They were asking: â€˜Why our church? What is the reason? What they want from us?â€™â€
The archbishop said nobody had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
He added: â€œThere is no justification for attacks like this. We Christians have no part to play in politics. We are not causing people any problems.
â€œThis is only happening because we are Christians. Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians.â€
â€œPlease pray for us. Pray for peace and stability. Our Christians are very afraid.â€
Archbishop Sako said that since the last attacks two weeks ago, five Christian families had left.
He estimates that since the 1970s, the Christian population in Kirkuk has fallen by two-thirds to 10,000.
â€œThis exodus of Christians is going on all the time. It is a big loss for those Christians who want to continue here. How long can they resist the pressure to leave?â€
The archbishop said at a meeting today the local governor promised him that the government would provide more guards for churches and funding for repairs.
But Archbishop Sako said such measures offer little reassurance long-term.
He said: â€œThe government will provide guards and repairs but we are not sure if there will be no another explosion. The government is doing its job, but they need more police to train and more solders. What can we do? How can we plan for the future? It is unknown. We still hope against all hopes as St Paul said. We will not give up until the endâ€
The governmentâ€™s pledge to boost security comes after Syrian Catholic Archbishop Johanna Petros Mouche of Kirkuk called on politicians to guarantee better protection, making his comments in an ACN interview nearly two weeks ago.
Archbishop Sako went on to describe scaling back celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady to â€œmodestâ€ levels.
The archbishop, who is a Chaldean prelate, said our relations are very good with the Syrian Orthodox and other churches and added that they would work together.
He said: â€œAll the Christians, all the churches are open to each other. We have an ecumenism which is really alive and we are supporting one another as much as we can.â€
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity â€“ helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
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