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By Matthew Fisher
IRBIL, Iraq — With extremists flying the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham less than an hour down the road, the future of one of the last Christian communities in the Middle East is at grave risk of assimilation or annihilation.
An estimated 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled the Plain of Mosul in several panicked waves that began in June as ISIS swept east from the Syrian border, murdering, raping and kidnapping as it went. Every place ISIS conquered, it immediately issued an ultimatum to Christians that repeated the stark choice they had given to Syrian Christians when they seized large parts of that country during the past two years. Christians had to either pay a huge ransom for their freedom, convert to Islam or be killed.
“After being here for more than a millennium, this is the Christians’ last stand in Iraq,” said Safa Jamel Bahnan, who used to work as a truck driver at the Mosul airport. “Over the centuries we have faced the sword so many times for our beliefs. In two, three, four years Christians will not be here because Daesh (ISIS) kill us. We will probably be living in the U.S., Canada or Australia. Otherwise, we will be erased from this Earth.”
Father Rian, who celebrated one of the masses, was equally grim about Christianity’s future in the Middle East.
“What we are living is the last chapter of an ancient story,” the Chaldean Catholic priest said. About half of the Christian refugees — whom the UN regards as internally displaced persons — are jammed into the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Many of them attended the four masses offered Sunday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The masses were celebrated in the Chaldean and Assyrian dialects of Aramaic which are related to the language that was spoken by Jesus Christ.
Lord have mercy.
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