Bishops fear for future of Iraqi Christians

A delegation of Iraqi bishops representing the country’s multifarious denominations has given a tragic picture of conditions in Iraq particularly the capital Baghdad.

The bishops have flown to Europe to explain the plight of their congregations and whether anything is left to be done not to let the country be emptied of its once prosperous Christian minority.

Numbers are receding drastically and from nearly 1 million Christians registered in the 1987 census the bishops said their church records now include a little bit more than one third of the figure.

Most affected have been Christians in Baghdad who once were served by nearly 100 churches.

The monasteries and seminaries have been shut down and U.S. occupation troops have occupied two of them in the restive and violent Doura neighborhood.

“I alone have to look after 2,000 displaced Christian families in Baghdad. They were forced to leave their districts simply because they were Christians,” one of the bishops said.

The bishops did not want their names mentioned for security reasons.

They were unanimous in their criticism of the United States and its blunders in Iraq.

They said the coming of the Americans has resulted in tragic consequences for their congregations as many in Iraq associate U.S. troops with Christianity.

“This democracy this man (President George Bush) has brought to us is that of tanks, kidnappings, random killings, car-bombing and massive marauding armies who go about their work with impunity,” another said.

The Chadean Catholics, who are the majority in Iraq, have now only eight functioning churches out of nearly 60. “The priests have left and the faithful have fled,” said the bishop.

The deserted churches and monasteries are being looted and ransacked.

Two of the functioning ones were forced to remove their crosses, one bishop said.

“We will stay and will be the last ones to leave but the tide of violence and insecurity the Americans brought with them is about to drown our communities,” the bishop added.

Three of the bishops still live in Baghdad despite their shrinking dioceses.

They said conditions in Baghdad were worsening despite the heavy presence of U.S. troops.

Insurgents and militants do not fear (U.S) Marines or Iraqi forces, they said, adding that certain quarters of Baghdad have even become more violent since the so-called U.S. surge.