ICN: What Future Do Christians Have in the Middle East?
Violence against Christians in the Middle East continues with no foreseeable end. This region is where Christian history began on Earth, but will Christians ever be able to live there in peace again? Independent Catholic News offers this opinion piece by Michael Glackin.
Viewpoint: What future do Christians have in the Middle East?
By: Michael Glackin
I met Saad on a sweltering hot day, 90 degrees in September no less, just as we were both leaving Pope Benedict XVI’s Papal Mass in Beirut in 2012. I had spotted him amid the tens of thousands in attendance that day because he had an Iraqi flag draped across his shoulder.
Saad told me he was one of a group of 21 Chaldean Catholics who had travelled from Kirkuk in Iraq to attend the Mass.
Chaldeans are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and along with other Iraqi Christians and Muslims were suffering persecution in the continuing bloody aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.
He was in a buoyant mood that day in Beirut.
Despite what he described as “dangerous journey” from his home in Northern Iraq to Beirut, and the prospect of an equally dangerous return trip, he told me that he was “lifted” by seeing the Pope. “To be so near the head of our church is very special for us. The Pope’s visit supports Christians in Iraq and across the Middle East” He said: “It means we are not alone in this part of the world, it reminds us that there are many of us and shows us we can support each other and express our faith openly.”
As I write this I have no idea if Saad is still alive. The situation in Iraq that he described to me that day has worsened significantly. Kirkuk, Saad’s hometown, has seen sporadic clashes on its outskirts as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) the Sunni extremist insurgent group which has conquered large swathes of northern and western Iraq and northern and eastern Syria, stepped up its bloody campaign last month.
Kirkuk remains in Kurdish hands, but the many Christian villages to its south have fallen under ISIS control. The shelling of the village of Hamdaniya sparked a flight by thousands of Christians from it and other nearby villages to take sanctuary in the relatively safe Kurdish controlled territory.
ISIS has now declared a caliphate over the region and changed its name to Islamic State. Wherever its writ runs, summary executions are commonplace. Shootings and beheadings have been filmed with glee as ISIS asserts its control over the areas it has captured.
At Deir Hafer in the east of Aleppo province in Syria, ISIS was reported to have crucified eight men in the main square of the village. The men were understood to be rebels fighting against both Syrian President Bashar Assad and jihadist groups including ISIS.
Last month the march of ISIS effectively ended more than 1600 years of Christian worship in Mosul in northern Iraq after it annexed the city.
As it did when it took over the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS demanded a levy in gold from Christians who had failed to flee and forced them to accept stringent curbs on their worship – known as dhimmi status, effectively suppression as a “protected” minority – or face death.
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