Pray for Christians in the Middle East

by Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent
Christmas-Day bomb attack: people survey debris at the site of a market where a bomb exploded, in the Christian Doura district of Baghdad

THE Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other church leaders took the opportunity of the celebration of Christmas to pledge support for the oppressed Christian communities in the Middle East.

On Christmas Day itself, Iraq experienced one of the worst atrocities aimed at the country’s Christian minority, when at least 34 people were killed in bombings in Baghdad. Many thousands of Syrian Christians, meanwhile, are among the millions of civilians displaced by the war in their country.

In his Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Welby said that, while Christians were singing about Bethlehem, “we see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer. We see injustice in the ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle East. The Prince of Wales highlighted their plight last week.”

The Archbishop also referred to the killings that day in Iraq, “where there have been Christians since the first century”, and where “more people testified to their faith with their lives. Christians in the region are attacked and massacred, driven into exile from an area in which their presence has always been central, undoubted, essential, richly contributing, faithful.”

He then turned to South Sudan, “where political ambitions have led towards ethnic conflict. On Saturday, I was speaking to a Bishop under siege, in a compound full of the dying. God’s passionate love for the vulnerable is found in the baby in a manger in a country at war. If that was his home; today it must be our care.”

On St Stephen’s Day, Pope Francis appealed for spiritual help for “Christians who suffer violence, discrimination, and all manner of injustice because of their faithfulness to Christ and his gospel”. Referring to the bombings in Baghdad, he said: “We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like St Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realised.”

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, preaching at midnight mass in Westminster Cathedral, asked worshippers to give “a special thought and prayer” to Christians around the world who suffer for their faith. He said: “Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world today, and this evening we think especially of the Middle East, especially of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.”

The first bomb-blast in Baghdad on Christmas Day was in a market in a Christian district of the Doura neighbourhood. At least ten people were killed. Shortly afterwards, a car bomb exploded close to St John’s RC Church as worshippers were leaving. Police said that 24 people were killed, and many more injured. Reuters quoted one policeman at the scene as saying that “a car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful. Bodies of women, girls, and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives.”

In Egypt, security measures are being increased around churches before the Coptic Christmas celebrations on 7 January, amid unsubstantiated rumours that Islamists plan to attack Christian targets. Copts have often accused the Egyptian authorities of failing to provide adequate protection.

Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent quizzes the Archbishop of Canterbury on Western inactivity in the face of regional conflict Read More

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