What has been the Vatican’s response? (1)

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The following appeal, written by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad, was sent to me a few weeks ago by a Christian organization based in the United States. The organization is asking for prayers and alms for the entire Christians living in the Middle East, whose presence is currently being wiped out and eradicated—people, churches and symbols of the Christian Faith. The Patriarch’s appeal reads:

“Dear Friend,

“You have seen the reports in the newspapers. You’ve heard accounts on radio and TV of the helpless children and infants suffering and dying, and the horrors being committed against Catholics and (members of other denominations) in the Middle East.

“And this is happening right now, during our lifetime. How can we not respond?

“I have been personally asked by Church leaders in Baghdad and Aleppo to share with you how desperate and dire the situation is for Catholics living in Iraq and Syria. The very existence of our Faith is under threat in these places.

“Imagine a threatening knock at your door. Armed gunmen command you to leave your home, convert to Islam or die. Now imagine the front wall of your home being marked with the letter ‘N’ in Arabic to signify Nazarene or Christian, targeting you and your loved ones for theft, violence, even death. Imagine also your parish church, where you or your child was baptized, with all of the crucifixes and religious images destroyed by militant extremists. This is the reality our brothers and sisters face right now in Iraq and Syria.

“The information arriving each day is alarming. It is heart-breaking! Throughout the Middle East, the Christian presence is being wiped out, eradicated – people, churches and symbols of our Faith are under siege. And babies, small children, innocent women and men are refugees in their own land.

“My heart is bleeding for the innocents who are dying and for the countless refugees…”

Indeed, Christians in Syria are currently living in hell just as Nigerian Christians in the north east are equally living at present. In mid 2013 Jihadists in Syria kidnapped a Catholic priest in the Idlib area and beheaded him as scores of onlookers, including children, cheered and recorded the event on their cell phones. “According to local sources, the monastery where Fr. Murad was staying was attacked by militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al Nusrah [the Al Nusrah Front],” said the Fides News Agency, the Vatican’s official media outlet.

In a video showing the tragic event, Father Murad and two other men are seen kneeling on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs. A crowd of armed men as well as young boys watch as a bearded jihadist makes a speech. The crowd then begins to chant “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great!”), and another bearded jihadist dressed in black takes out a knife and begins to behead one of the men. People in the crowd press close and scramble to take video. The same jihadist proceeds to behead the other two men. The heads of the murdered men are then placed on top of their corpses.

Christians in Syria have been undergoing great persecution since the Syrian civil war began. The Christian communities of Syria, which constitute at least 10 percent of the Syrian population, have been systematically targeted by the Islamists; their churches have been attacked and desecrated; their priests, monks, and nuns gruesomely murdered; and generally discriminated against by the anti-government, Islamic terrorists. There have been several cases of bomb blasts in churches, raping, kidnappings, and beheadings.

The latest newsletter sent to me a few days ago by the same religious organization reads: “For the first time in 2000 years, no Communion was served in Nineveh, Iraq, because Christians have been ERADICATED!”

It should be noted that Islamic State, proclaiming a ‘caliphate’ straddling parts of Iraq and Syria, has swept across northern Iraq in recent Months, pushing back Kurdish regional forces and driving tens of thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi religious minority from their homes, which prompted the first U.S. air strikes in Iraq since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.

Now back to my home country. In 2012, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, said:

“This war is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers… It will stop when Islamic religion is the determinant in governance in Nigeria or, in the alternative, when all fighters are annihilated and no one is left to continue the fight. I warn all Muslims at this juncture that any Muslim who assists an unbeliever in this war should consider himself dead.”

Early this year, 2014, we learnt—from the Federal government—that over 12,000 lives of innocent Nigerians had been wasted by Muslim terrorists since 2009, that is, from 2009 till early 2014. In Maiduguri alone, giving details of loss from 2009 till early this year, Father Gideon Obasogie, Director, Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, “said more than 500 of their members have been killed, more than 50 Churches burnt, about 90, 000 people displaced, 170 children killed and more than 300 women were made to become widows…He said 1500 orphans have also been recorded by the Church within the period under review while 34 parishes were completely destroyed in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states…When giving the details of loss in schools and the health sector, Very Rev. Fr. Bature Fidelis Joseph, Project Manager, Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, said “33 schools built after the takeover by government earlier made up of 23 primary and 10 secondary schools have been destroyed, with three completely burnt.” (Daily Independent, Friday, May 16, 2014, p. 3.)

Today, however, the number of those killed has by far increased—the Federal government said last month that it is now 13, 000 but we know the number is higher than that. Just last August, we heard of Boko Haram declaring Gwoza town in the troubled north-eastern state of Borno as an Islamic Caliphate, as well as taking over Madagali. Members of the sect reportedly beheaded every Christian man available in the areas, while their wives have been forced into Islam and given out in marriage to the sect members.

The Director, Social Communications of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, gave this revelation to Journalists in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. According to him, the Islamist terrorists have advanced greatly in their rampage and killings, to the extent of declaring a Caliphate in Gwoza LGA of Borno State, a town bordering Borno and Adamawa states.

“As it is well known”, he said, “the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri covers the whole of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States, the three states under strict emergency rule. Apart from the churches within Maiduguri that have great share of such attacks by the terrorists group, all the churches on the major road linking Maiduguri and Adamawa state have been shut down due to activities of the insurgents.” He further stated that “St Timothy’s Bama has been under siege since last year. The Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Timothy Cosmas had long been relocated to a different Parish. At the early part of this year, St. Peter’s Pulka was badly attacked. Thanks to God that Fr. James John was luckily unavailable. The terrorists searched and wanted to kill the holy Priest of God.

Jonathan E. Ifeanyi