Catholic Center condemns Baghdad church attacks

By Carol Rizk
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Catholic Media Center sounded the alarm on Tuesday saying Iraq’s Christians were facing increasing injustice and were being pushed to flea their home country.

The center issued a statement “strongly” condemning acts of violence against Iraqi Christians, especially the latest attack over the weekend on six churches in Baghdad.

The statement described the ongoing brutal acts as “crimes against humanity” saying that the battered country’s Christians “are Iraqi citizens who fulfill all their national duties but their rights are still being violated.

“Iraqi Christians have no protection and no guarantee of living a decent and peaceful life,” it added.

Sectarian wars have been ripping Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, forcing more than 2 million Iraqis to flee their homeland, mostly to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

However clashes, according to the Catholic Center, have affected the country’s Christian minorities who are now afraid to hold religious services “or practice their faith for fear of being threatened, kidnapped or killed.”

According to the Catholic Media Center’s statement, these attacks targeted all the Christians of the Middle East.

“Christians are not immigrants or foreigners in the Arab world, they are natives,” it said.

The statement stressed that the Christian community have shaped Iraq’s culture “since the time of the apostles going to the Arab golden age and the Arab renaissance,” adding that Christians have “greatly contributed to the fields of arts, commerce, medicine, human rights and freedom of expression.”

More than one million Christians live in Iraq, predominantly in the north and most of them belonging to the Chaldean or the Assyrian ethnicity.

The Chaldean community has lived in Iraq since the time of Christ. Settling mostly in the northern districts, particularly around Mosul, their population is estimated to number around 1,300,000, but almost half of the minority Christian community has already fled Iraq in several waves over the last 50 years, leaving whole villages almost deserted. The exodus reached its peak in 2007.

The latter are the original inhabitants of the land and are considered to be the first Christian nation in history. However, it has dramatically changed over the years and many Christians fear that their current situation has become worse since the removal of Saddam Hussein with more Islamic extremists threatening their existence.

The Catholic Media Center urged Christians to hang on to their faith, to forgiveness and compassion and not to fear martyrdom. Christians will continue to be contributing members of the Iraqi society and they will keep on promoting peace, justice and stability and we hope that their fellow citizens will realize that,” the statement added.

While the top UN envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, called on Monday for more efforts to protect Christians and minorities, the Catholic Media Center’s statement urged the Arab league and the United Nations through its Security Council to take “all necessary measures to protect the people of Iraq and to compensate their losses.”

Hundred of thousand of Chaldean Christians have fled Iraq because of violent threats against their community, and many of those refugees have arrived in Lebanon during the last few years, searching for a better life or resettlement in other countries.

The Chaldean Church in Beirut coordinates the work of various non-governmental organizations that are trying to help the displaced Chaldean community in Lebanon.

Most refugees arrive in Lebanon with only a few belongings packed in a suitcase, leaving almost everything else behind. The Lebanese government offers them a one-month visa, but most of them overstay the duration and their status becomes illegal, meaning that they face the threat of detention.