August 22, 2014


Persecution of Christians in Iraq

“The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God” (Jn 16:1).

Jesus told his disciples frequently that they and his Church would endure persecution, and the above quotation is one of many we could cite. So we shouldn’t be surprised that, according to demographers of religion David Barrett and Todd Johnson, there have been 70 million Christian martyrs since the time of Christ, 45 million in the 20th century alone. The persecution of Christ’s Church continues.

Today it is happening, among other places, in Iraq where Islamic State jihadists have overrun parts of the country and have been committing horrendous criminal acts. Major Christian communities in Mosul and Qaraqosh are gone. Christians were given the choice of conversion to Islam, paying an onerous tax or exile, and some of them were crucified or beheaded.

Yes, it’s true that the Christians were not alone. Other minorities, especially the Yezidi sect (also spelled Yazidi), are suffering the same persecution. The United States and other countries dropped food and water to many of them who were stranded on a mountain.

Of course, we should be doing that. However, it seems to us that we heard much more from the secular media, and from the U.S. government, about the plight of the 40,000 Yezidi refugees than the 100,000 Christians who were driven into the desert after all their belongings were confiscated.

Pope Francis has continued to speak out about these atrocities, including during a press conference on Aug. 18 aboard his flight home from South Korea, but the secular media seem to pay little attention. How often have you seen reports on the attacks of Christian communities and destruction of churches and monasteries?

The pope spoke out during his Angelus talk on Aug. 10, and used Twitter during the next several days to urge people to join him in prayer for peace in Iraq and for the tens of thousands of people who are now refugees. He has called on the international community to “stop these crimes” and reestablish law and order, and he sent Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq with a financial contribution for the urgent needs of the refugees.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue spoke out on Aug. 12, but did the secular media report it? The council denounced, among other things, “the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation; the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places; the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick; the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war; the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation” (female genital mutilation).

The persecution of Christians is the major unintended consequence of America’s war against Saddam Hussein. While Hussein was president of Iraq, there were about 1.4 million Christians. Today there are fewer than 300,000.

The Muslim fanatics who are chasing all non-Muslims out of Iraq make no secret of their objective. It’s to restore the caliphate (an Islamic state based on sharia law) that was abolished in 1923 by Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. The leaders of the uprising first called themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). They are now called the Islamic State, and the group is composed of Sunni Muslims who are opposed to the Shiite Muslim government of Iraq and the government in Syria headed by Bashar al-Assad.

They think that Christians are their enemy. They believe they are offering worship to their God when they kill the followers of Christ. Thus the quotation that we chose to begin this editorial.

However, Pope Francis has the answer to that. “One cannot generate hatred in God’s name,” he said. “One cannot make war in God’s name.”

Most of the Iraqi Christians are trying to escape to the Kurdistan part of Iraq. Most Kurds are Muslims. However, some Kurds converted to Christianity in the ninth century, and it’s believed that today there are tens of thousands of Christians in Kurdistan.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, a third-century Christian writer).

—John F. Fink

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