Mich. Iraqi Christians mourning Baghdad attack

Members of Michigan’s growing Iraqi Christian community expressed sorrow and anger Monday over the weekend attack on a Baghdad church that left at least 58 people dead and 78 wounded.√ā¬†

The Rev. Safaa Habash, associate pastor of St. Toma Syriac Catholic church in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, said two of the priests killed Sunday were his students several years ago at a Baghdad seminary.

“They were promising priests, really seeking, working for peace and justice in Iraq,” Habash said of Thaer Abdal and Waseem Sabih. “They stayed, they remained with the people. They were good role models.”

The attack at Our Lady of Salvation church was claimed by an al-Qaida-linked group. It’s the deadliest known against Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as many Christians have fled to other countries.

At least 58 people were killed, including 12 policemen as well as five bystanders thought to have been died from the car bombing and blasts outside the church before the attackers stormed inside. Forty-one Christians inside the church also died, including two priests.

Joe Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, said the U.S. Christian Iraqi community is “very concerned about what’s happening to our people in Iraq.”

“The time has come for the international community to intervene and protect the indigenous people of Iraq, the Christians,” said Kassab, who is also a board member of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America. “The Iraqi government is frail and unable to protect its own people.”

Kassab, whose federation is based in suburban Detroit, said the deteriorating situation for Christians has led to people “leaving in droves.” Since 2007, thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees or immigrants have come to the Detroit area, which has one of the largest communities of people in the United States with roots in the Middle East.

Habash said church officials sent him to the Detroit area to serve the growing number of Iraqi refugees. Still, he is saddened by what he is seeing in his homeland.

“What’s happening is tragic — a real atrocity,” he said. “Fundamentalists … want Christianity to die in Iraq.”
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