Baghdad, IRAQ – Iraqi Christians march in Mosul and Baghdad and hold prayer vigils in Kirkuk to draw attention to unending murders of minorities in Iraq. In recent weeks alone, minority men, women, and children have been abducted, killed, raped, harrased, and tortured. Those surviving have returned with ominous messages that Christians are no longer allowed to be in Iraq.
Mgr Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul confirmed that hundreds of families have left Mosul in the last few days, about 600 in a community of some 4,000 people, according to a United Nations report. The prelate said, “about 400 families have escaped.”
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul led over 1,000 Iraqi Catholics in a silent protest on February 28 to demand that the government act to put a stop to violence against Christians there.
The United Nations estimated that 683 Christians fled Mosul between February 20 and February 27. Chaldean Catholic Bishop Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul estimated that "about 400 families" had left the city's community of 4,000 Christians.
“The daily massacre suffered by the Christian community … is met with indifference from the authorities,” said Archbishop Casmoussa on the eve of the march. “We will be fasting and praying for peace and for the survival of Christians.”
“Security is not guaranteed,” he added. “There are soldiers in front of the church, and this helps to prevent terrorist attacks. But today's Christian families are being killed on the streets or in their homes. More protection is needed. We ask authorities that the culprits be arrested and prosecuted according to law. We want justice to be done.”
Archbishop Casmoussa added that the Christians of Mosul were consoled by a visit on February from 82-year-old Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Eleven of the nation’s 15 dioceses and eparchies are Chaldean Catholic; two are Syrian Catholic, one is Armenian Catholic, and one is Latin Rite.
In Kirkuk, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako led another prayer rally, saying that Christians there would also be fasting. He said: "It is shameful that in a city like Mosul, with a million people, no one has spoken out against the slaughter of Christians." While the central Iraqi government has denounced the killings, he observed, the embattled Christians need "concrete actions" rather than rhetoric.
Archbishop Sako also warned against the "Nineveh Plains plain"-- the proposal to gather Christians into a single location in the Nineveh region. All Christians should unite in opposition to that proposal, the archbishop said, "because it is a trap." Catholic leaders have generally agreed that a Christian enclave would be vulnerable to organized attacks.
Following an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI in yesterday’s Angelus (a source of consolation and faith for Christian leaders), Mgr Emil Shimoun Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, and Mgr Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, at a fateful moment for the future of Iraqi Christians.
Christians have received messages of solidarity and affection, but the security issue remains. “We are asking the central government and local authorities for two things: more security for the community and proper investigations to find out who ordered these killings and who carried them out,” Mgr Nona said. “This would send a strong signal to Christians, a show that that they are not alone and left to their own destiny.”
Today in Kirkuk, Christians held a day of fasting. At 5 pm, they will take part in a prayer vigil, but only for Christians, to avoid being “used politically” before the 7 March election.
“The government condemned the attacks,” said Mgr Louis Sako of Kirkuk. “Muslim leaders did the same, insisting that the violence is ‘unIslamic’; however, we have become accustomed to such statements and want instead concrete actions”. Until now, Muslims have been silent concerning the slaughter, but now they should ‘react’ and take concrete actions.”
For the archbishop, a power struggle is underway in the country, and “we do not want to get involved. Instead, we are fighting for peace in Iraq”.
In the capital, dozens of people demonstrated yesterday against “targeted killings”; they too called on the central government to provide security.
For Mgr Shlemon Warduni, anti-Christian attacks “are organised”. Christians are the victims of the “politicization of the conflict” between Arabs and Kurds. “We run the risk of a holocaust,” he said. “The support and solidarity of ordinary people, even Muslims, is not enough,” he explained, if political leaders and the government do not take concrete steps.
Appeals to anyone and everyone across the world have been sent encouraging world citizens take some sort of action to help the minorities of Iraq. Leaders are begging people to get involved, write their leaders, call their representatives, hold awareness functions, and send petitions despite the flagrant rejection of world leaders and media outlets willful ignorance and lack of action to defend the plight of native Iraqis.