Evangelical sects put Iraqi Christians in danger, Iraqi bishop says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — The proliferation of foreign evangelical Christian sects in Iraq is putting Iraqi Christians in greater danger, said a Chaldean bishop.

The fall of Saddam Hussein opened the doors to a large influx of Christian groups and movements from abroad, said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad.

These groups, many of which are from the United States or the United Kingdom, “have money and vehicles which they use to attract children and young people offering them food and money,” he told the Italian Catholic agency SIR Dec. 3.

This activity puts the Iraqi “Christian minority at risk, exposing it to the unjust accusation of proselytism,” he said.

Even though much progress has been made in reducing violence in Iraq, “security and stability are still lacking,” the Iraqi bishop said, and people are still afraid.

This year, like previous years, Christmas midnight Mass will be celebrated during the day, he said. Many families will celebrate the festivities privately in their own homes, he added.

He said the hatred and discrimination aimed at the country’s Christians stem from a fundamentalist minority. People’s daily relations with their Muslim neighbors are “good” and marked by mutual respect, he said.

“When I pass a checkpoint in my clerical robes, the Iraqi guards salute me, they respect me, they let me through. That’s something the English and American soldiers don’t do,” he said.

Bishop Warduni said many Muslims expressed enormous solidarity for their Christian neighbors when a flare-up in violence in October claimed the lives of 13 Christians and forced thousands to flee Mosul in northern Iraq.

He said many Muslims urged Christians to not be intimidated and to remain.

When families chose to escape, many Muslims went to visit them, bringing food, clothing and invitations to return with them in their vehicles to Mosul, promising to act as “shields against attacks by extremists,” he said.

“Many Muslims in Mosul guarded Christians’ abandoned homes, keeping them from being looted,” he added.