August 1, 2014


Let’s all be ‘Nazarats’ who pray, work for the peace of Christ

“Our worst fears have come true, and we don’t know what to do,” said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad.

What were the bishop’s worst fears? The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has expelled all Christians from the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, after threatening to kill any Christians who did not convert to Islam or pay a tax. Homes belonging to Christians were singled out and marked with the Arabic letter “N,” for “Nazarat,” which means Christian. They also spray painted “Property of Isis” on the buildings.

The persecution of Christians in predominantly Muslim countries has increased dramatically in recent years without receiving a lot of attention in the media and with no serious response from the international community.

According to the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, in 2003 there were 60,000 Christians living in Mosul, and as late as the end of June, 35,000 Christians had lived there. ISIS has changed all that.

All have fled, and it is now impossible to ignore the massive persecution of Christians. “Our brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are chased away,” Pope Francis said before leading pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silent prayer on July 20.

What else can the pope do but pray for our persecuted sisters and brothers? What can any of us do in the face of such an egregious display of anti-Christian hatred and persecution?

“Violence isn’t overcome with violence,” the Holy Father said. “Violence is conquered with peace.”

Peace is the answer, but peace is always fragile, and in some places—like the city of Mosul—it is non-existent. That’s why Christians and people of every faith tradition the world over must pray for peace. To stop the violence, we must pray for peace.

But if we want peace, we also have to work for justice. What is happening to Christians throughout the Middle East is profoundly unjust. The families who fled their homes in Mosul were subsequently robbed of all their possessions at the city’s checkpoints.

Deprived of their religious freedom, forced to abandon their homes and their heritage, and robbed at gunpoint, they are being “rejected, expelled and diminished” from a land they have shared with Muslim neighbors for more than 1,400 years.

And, sad to say, the gross injustices that are being committed by militants in Iraq and elsewhere are being made possible by funding obtained from extremist nations in the Persian Gulf as well as from the purchase of foreign oil, the sales of weapons and even foreign aid funds provided by western nations.

If we really want peace, there are things we can—and must—do to curb the flow of instruments of war. Praying for peace is critical. So is working for justice. So is pressuring political leaders here in the United States and abroad to take action on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

What can the pope do? In addition to calling urgently for prayers, dialogue and peace, he can call on the international community to act. And he can ask every Christian, and every person of good will, to cry out against the unjust and inhumane treatment of Christians in Mosul and in every place in the world where Christians are denied basic human rights, including religious freedom.

On July 20, Syriac Patriarch Younan spoke with Pope Francis by telephone. According to Vatican Radio, the patriarch told the Holy Father about the disastrous situation in Mosul. He begged the pope “to continue intensifying efforts with the powerful of this world,” and to warn the international community that what is happening in Iraq is a mass persecution based on religion.

We need to help the pope. We need to urge our nation’s leaders, who surely are among “the powerful of this world,” to listen to Pope Francis and to do whatever is humanly possible to stop the violence and to restore peace and justice to our persecuted sisters and brothers.

We need to pray, but we also need to act. If every Christian family in our archdiocese, in the United States and throughout the world reached out to our leaders and begged them to intercede on behalf of Christians in Iraq and other war-torn regions of the world, miracles would happen; justice could be done; and peace would be possible.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian family the world over voluntarily marked their front doors with “N” for Jesus the Nazarean in order to proclaim our solidarity with the persecuted Christians expelled from Mosul?

“Violence isn’t overcome with violence,” as Pope Francis teaches. Violence is conquered with the peace of Christ, which begins with each of us, and spreads throughout all God’s creation.

—Daniel Conway

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