No peace for Iraqi Christians this Easter

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By Cardinal Timothy Dolan Roma Downey and Mark Burnett
CNN) -This is the time of the year when Christians the world over — more than 2 billion of us — reflect upon the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord.
In light of the tragic massacre of Christian college students in Kenya on Thursday, and the ongoing threat against Christians in other nations, this Holy Week we are calling upon Christians to also reflect upon the crucifixion, beheading, stoning, enforced slavery, sexual abuse, human trafficking, harassment, bombing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Christians — and others — whose faith alone has made them a target of religious extremists.

Countless lives have been utterly destroyed in nations such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, India, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.

In June 2012, Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Iraq told the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “We beg you to help. We want only peace, security, and freedom. Please no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice.” By then, nearly every remaining church in Iraq had constructed a blast wall around its building to buffet the threat of the inevitable church bombing.

This crisis escalated substantially last summer when ISIS swept like lightning through Iraq’s Nineveh province, capturing the country’s second-largest city, Mosul; a city that was until 2014 a home of a thriving Christian community, there centuries before Islam.

Again and again the world did not respond as it might have, and now the inconceivable has happened: Iraq’s Nineveh Plain has been emptied of its ancient Christianity community, which existed there for more than 1,500 years.

On March 27, in a presentation to the U.N. Security Council, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako referred to the present reality of his fellow Iraqi Christians as a “catastrophic situation.”

He’s right.

Rarely since the first century has the church in the East faced persecution on this scale. Christian communities that took 2,000 years to build, and that were started by the apostles themselves, lie in ashes between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Survivors waste away as refugees, often in deplorable conditions, with no homes or churches to return to if the region eventually stabilizes.

Whether they be Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, Christian communities are united in what Pope Francis has called an “ecumenism of blood,” recognizing that Christianity is experiencing more martyrdom today than in the first century.

This is not an exaggerated or contrived crisis.

As Nina Shea, director of the Hudson’s Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has aptly put it, “Piece by piece, Middle Eastern Christianity is being shattered.”

Our concern is not to the exclusion of anyone else under threat by these religious fanatics, and we reject those who believe that this evil is reflective of the majority of Muslims whose community has actually experienced the most casualties in this conflict.

It is also true that Christianity faces a legitimate threat of extinction in several parts of Iraq and Syria and it faces a growing threat in nations such as Nigeria. In solidarity with those being threatened we agree with the words delivered by Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the United Nations last fall, “Christians are an integral part of [the Middle East’s] past, present and future.”

When history writes of our time will we be able to say that we tried everything in our power to cease this attempt to eliminate 2,000 years of Christianity from the Middle East and to stop this threat before it spreads to other nations?

These communities need our love and support like never before, and they also need security and protection from the world like never before.

This Easter we reflect upon the words of a Christian who was himself beheaded for his faith alone.

He converted to Christianity one day on a road to Damascus, Syria, when his name was changed from Saul to Paul.

In a letter to Christians living in another dangerous place in another persecuted time, he wrote, “Pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people.”

This Easter, let us earnestly pray with all the love of Christ for all those in harm’s way.

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