Churches bombed in Baghdad in largest assault against Christians

480229851.jpgSoldier cleans debris from bombed church in Baghdad 5 churches were bombed around Baghdad that killed four people and injured another 12 on Sunday, indicating the potential renewal of Christian persecution in Iraq just days after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities. The New York Times reported that the bombings on Sunday, “appeared to be one of the largest single coordinated assaults against churches and Christians in Baghdad.”

Some are speculating who the offenders might be, according to Asia News:

Some journalists in the capital say that the police suspect Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, of being behind the attacks motivated by revenge for the “martyr of the veil” in Germany. Marwa el-Sherbini, 32 years old and in the third month of pregnancy, was killed in a knife attack in a Dresden courtroom by a German of Russian origin who she had sued for defamation. In the Islamic world she is being called the “martyr of the veil.”

Christian persecution is nothing new in Iraq

Christians once accounted for 5% of the population (800,000 people) but are now less than 2% because of a Christian exodus from persecution that intensified with church bombings five years ago. Christian legislator Younadam Kanna said that extremists were trying to send a message to the international community and prove that Iraq was unstable. He said the easiest way to do that is bomb Christians. Head of the Christian Endowment Abdullah Nufaili said:

Definitely we are the most vulnerable members of this society and we don’t have any political forces to protect us. We were expecting this, and we expect it to get worse. . . . Their goal is to drive the Christians out of Iraq.”

According to the Christians of Iraq website, it was the fall of Saddam Hussein, ironically, that unleashed higher levels of religious violence against the Christian community. Back in May of this year Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to ensure the survival of “the ancient Christian community of that noble land.”

In 2006, Lawrence F. Kaplan in The New Republic magazine described how Christianity has become the common enemy for many Iraq sects:

Sunni, Shia and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbours, hundreds of whom have been slaughtered since the U.S. invasion.”

Iraqi Christians are special to the Church and valuable to Iraq

Iraq has a fond place in Christian hearts for many reasons, including the fact that it is the only country where the liturgy is still celebrated in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And journalist Fred Stickert wrote in the Washington Report about the special symbolism and tradition of Iraqi Christianity:

When the Eucharist is celebrated in Iraq, there is a special bond with the original Last Supper meal in the Jerusalem Upper Room. Christians partake of the same Eucharistic loaf that was broken by Jesus himself in the midst of suffering. According to an Iraqi tradition, the disciple John kept a small piece from that first communion bread. When it came time to bake a commemorative loaf for a later celebration, it was added into the ingredients. Subsequently, a piece of dough was saved at each baking for the next loaf, and so on, so that a real continuity exists with the apostolic church and two millennia of ecclesiastical history.

But Christians also bring practical value to Iraq because they make up a large percentage of the middle class, including critical high-skilled professions such as doctors, engineers, intellectuals and civil servants. Catholic journalist Sandro Magister wrote about this situation two years ago:

In Iraq, Christians are traditionally present in the professions. Many are doctors and engineers. In the schools, they are – or were – 20 percent of the teachers. They are active in the sectors of computing, construction, lodging, specialized agriculture. They manage radio and television outlets. They work as translators and interpreters, a particularly vulnerable profession that already numbers three hundred victims.”

This unique community of Christians in Iraq has a long and sacred history but is in danger of extinction. One wonders if the bread of the Eucharist Stickert described will make it to the next generation. There is hope for survival of some sort, as Father Gabriel Marie said nearly ten years ago after surviving a similar Church bombing: