Iraq’s Christians are being martyredFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
The blood of the martyrs is being poured out in Iraq, an ancient land of Christian witness.
Most Iraqi Catholics are of the Chaldean Church, and the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Paulus Faraj Rahho was discovered dead yesterday. He had been kidnapped on Feb. 29 in an ambush in which his driver and two other men were killed. At 67 and not in robust health, Archbishop Rahho needed daily medicine for his heart condition. His abductors revealed his death yesterday and the place where they had buried his body. A preliminary investigation concluded that he had been dead at least five days, but the cause of death was not clear.
In any case, the abductors are guilty of another round of Christian killings. The Iraqi government, and several Iraqi Muslim leaders, had called for the Archbishop’s release, but to no avail. I made phone contact yesterday with Catholic officials in Baghdad, and they were shaken by the audacity of the killing. After this, can there be a single Christian in Iraq who is safe?
The most recent wave of anti-Christian violence in Iraq took place in January. Three Chaldean churches were bombed in Mosul, two in Kirkuk and four in Baghdad. Explosions also hit the orphanage run by the Chaldean nuns in al-Nour, as well as a convent of Dominican sisters in Mosul Jadida. Several priests have been abducted. In October, 2006, an Orthodox priest was kidnapped, beheaded and dismembered.
Last June, Father Ragheed Ganni, along with three deacons, was killed in a hail of gunfire upon getting into a car after celebrating Mass in the Church of the Holy Spirit. The assassins then placed explosives around the car so that the bodies could not be soon recovered — remaining as a warning to the Christians of Mosul. Father Ganni was Archbishop Rahho’s secretary. When he buried his priest last June, did Archbishop Rahho know that his time would soon come?
“Strike the shepherd that the sheep might be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). The flock was already dispersing, and no doubt the exodus of Christians will increase now that it is clear that those who harbour murderous hate for them will respect neither the archbishop’s office nor appeals made even by the Pope — as he did three times publicly in the last fortnight. Before the war began in 2003, there were estimates that Iraq’s Christian population was 500,000 — 800,000 strong. It is almost impossible to get accurate numbers, but some estimate that more than half have already fled. Archbishop Rahho said last fall that only one-third of the Christians in Mosul remained. Though less than 5% of the population, Christians constitute as much as one-third of the refugees leaving Iraq.
Protected neither by Sunni nor Shia militias, Christians are vulnerable to jihadi violence, motivated by both religious and mercenary reasons.
I knew Father Ganni. We studied in Rome at the same time and met on a few occasions as we had mutual friends. He knew the dangers, but declined to take a position in Europe, preferring instead to return to Mosul in solidarity with his people, and with his archbishop.
“Closed churches, car bombs, forced conversions … in Iraq Christians are dying. The Church is disappearing under the strike of persecution, threats, violence on the part of extremists that won’t leave any option but conversion or fleeing,” said Father Philip Najim, procurator of the Chaldean Church in relations with the Holy See at a memorial Mass for Father Ganni in Rome. “Christians have become the scapegoat to be taken advantage of or eliminate. They can’t profess their faith freely. Women are forced to wear the veil and crosses are torn from the churches. The kidnapping of priests is more frequent each day. Christians are forced to pay taxes if they want to keep their homes and faith. The only alternative is to renounce one’s own roots, leave one’s country, intensifying the emigration wave.”The ancient Christian wisdom formulated it: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum — the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Perhaps in time the martyrs of Iraq will produce a harvest of faith. But for now the heart is heavy, and we listen to their blood cry out to heaven. And if it not be for vengeance, may it at least bring down fearsome justice upon those guilty of killing both the shepherd and the flock.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Iraq’s Christians are being martyred." National Post, (Canada) March 15, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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