Prayers are being said around the world for Christians in Iraq, who are being persecuted
by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), but there is only limited hands-on help.
On July 18, the largest Christian community in Iraq, the Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, were given an ultimatum: Leave your ancestral home, convert to Islam, or die. These Christians, who still speak Jesus’ native tongue of Aramaic, are being targeted and killed.
ISIS has arranged for the Arabic letter “N” (for Nazarene) to be been painted on the outside of the homes of all known Christians in Mosul.
The threats were taken seriously by the several hundred thousand Christians in Mosul, who left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.
In 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron caused consternation among the British secular intelligentsia when he said: “We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.”
But Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, has now challenged
the Prime Minister over his apparent indifference to what is happening to Christians in Iraq.
The entire Christian population of Mosul, a presence there for at least 1600 years, has been driven out.
“A culture and civilisation is being destroyed and our political leaders are silent,” Mr Campbell said.
“Why is the UK silent on the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Mosul?”
In New Zealand in June, Bishop Patrick Dunn and Bishop Ross Bay, the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Auckland, issued a joint statement expressing their sadness at the extreme violence of the insurgency of troops affiliated with ISIS.
The Syrian Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan had said that Christians in the Middle East felt “abandoned, even betrayed” by the West as a militant Islamic force occupied large areas of Syria and Iraq. “We are very anxious, even devastated, because of the horrendous news that keeps coming to us from Mosul (Iraq) and surrounding areas,” Patriarch Younan wrote.
But what can be done for Christians in Iraq, apart from praying for Iraq and its suffering people?
For a start, we can look at what France is doing. The government of France opened its doors last month to persecuted Iraqi Christians.
“France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness,” Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, said in a joint statement on July 21. France is ready, they said, to facilitate the asylum of Iraq Christians on French soil. “We are in constant contact with local and national authorities
to ensure everything is done to protect them.”
The French statement highlights three elements that every government can communicate at once:
• Recognise the genocide and name the perpetrators and victims.
• Officially condemn what is happening in the strongest terms.
• Either offer a solution that includes cooperation with local authorities, but which leads by making solid commitments such as offering asylum or other forms of protection, and/or support those who are doing so.
The New Zealand Church must press our government to do more, and we can also look to the Chaldean Patriarch and the Iraqi bishops, who shared their expectations for “practical actions to assure our people, not merely expressions of condemnation”.