by Kevin Farrell - Bishop of Dallas (USA)
During my visit to Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress my blog will consist of some instances of attacks on our religious liberty both here and abroad as recorded by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. My earlier blogs on attacks on our religious freedom have been historical. This blog and the previous one are not history, they are current events.
A Concrete Example of Religious Persecution
Sunday evening Mass had just started at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Cathedral on October 31, 2010 when explosions were heard nearby. One priest began shepherding parishioners into a fortified back room, but heavily armed suicide bombers entered the church and barricaded the doors. Another priest approached the attackers and begged them to spare the worshipers. He was shot and died with a crucifix in his hand. The attackers shot randomly as they rounded up the remaining parishioners and held them hostage. They tried to break into the fortified room where 60 people were huddled and when unsuccessful, threw grenades in through a window.
Several hours later Iraqi security forces stormed the church to free the hostages as the attackers exploded their suicide vests. In the end, 58 hostages, including two priests, a 3 month-old child, and police were killed; 75 were wounded. The walls of the church were scarred with bullets and blood. An Al-Qaeda affiliated group claimed responsibility
This attack was horrific and roundly denounced by many in Iraq and beyond. Pope Benedict expressed profound sorrow “at this absurd violence, which is even more savage because it struck defenseless people, gathered in God’s house, which is a house of love and reconciliation.”
Unfortunately, this attack was not the only one against Christians in Iraq, even though it remains particularly memorable due to the scale of the carnage. Christians, who before 2003 numbered about 1.4 million in Iraq, have often been targeted by extremists, some of whom are allied with political parties seeking advantage. In the unstable post-war political environment following the U.S.-led invasion, Christians are viewed as “soft targets” without their own militias.
Systematic kidnappings for ransom, even of priests and bishops, and killings have caused thousands of Christians to flee their homes. They either go abroad or are displaced internally, trying to find safe havens. Safety is hard to find, and some of these Iraqi Christians have been displaced numerous times and are running out of resources. The number of Christians in Iraq is now estimated to be about 400,000. Their future prospects remain difficult.
The Church in Iraq, which has existed since the earliest days of Christianity, is struggling to survive with so many having fled. Yet, many remaining Christians are trying to ensure that the new Iraq that emerges includes space for the historic Christian community to participate and serve in what has traditionally been a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society
What can be you do to help? Your prayers are critically important. Your concrete help is also vital to support organizations, like Catholic Relief Service and Caritas, which are providing essential services to displaced Iraqis. Your welcome is needed for Iraqi refugees who have made the difficult decision to come to the United States to start a new life. Your advocacy for continued U.S. government support for strengthening the rule of law in Iraq and assisting displaced Iraqis, including Iraqi Christians, lets them know they have not been forgotten.