Iraq’s Christians: Outrage After Attack

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The world’s Christian leaders expressed outrage after an attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad left 58 people dead and 75 injured.

They also called on the international community and Iraqi officials to do more to protect Iraq’s Christian minority.

Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq, who concelebrated the funeral of some of the victims Nov. 2, said the United Nations needed to step in to protect the Catholic community.

“For our community it is a true human and religious catastrophe,” he told Vatican Radio Nov. 2. “This will cause panic. We continue to hold out our hand for dialogue, to work together, to forget the past, to overcome our pain, but then when we see that there is not an adequate response above all from (government) authorities, we feel without any protection.”

The archbishop said Iraqi political parties need to form a unity government.

“They need to make churches and Christian communities safe with laws and with a police presence until Christians can feel they can trust in their country and future again. The lovely words and nice speeches are not enough. I am sure that over the next few days we will receive a barrage of declarations and consoling words,” he said.

Msgr. Philip Najim, the Chaldean Catholic Church’s representative to the Vatican, told Vatican Radio the same day that the Oct. 31 attack was especially barbaric because it took place inside a place of worship when people were praying.

Armed militants wearing explosives stormed the cathedral during evening Mass, held Massgoers hostage and threatened to blow up the church. After a standoff of several hours, Iraqi forces stormed the cathedral.

“The extremists were condemned by Muslims (who believe in an) Islam that knows God, that knows faith, that knows love and knows charity,” Msgr. Najim said, adding that large numbers of Muslims lined up to donate blood for the victims.

In the United States, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said the U.S. government — having invaded Iraq and later withdrawn all combat troops — “has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.”

“While we welcomed the end of U.S.-led combat in Iraq, we share the Iraqi bishops’ concern that the United States failed to help Iraqis in finding the political will and concrete ways needed to protect the lives of all citizens, especially Christians and other vulnerable minorities, and to ensure that refugees and displaced persons are able to return to their homes safely,” said the cardinal, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal George quoted many of the comments by Iraqi bishops at the recently concluded Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican and recalled Pope Benedict XVI’s closing remarks calling peace “an indispensable condition for a life of dignity for individuals and society.”

“We stand with the bishops, church and people of Iraq in their urgent search for greater security, freedom and protection,” he said. “We call upon the United States to take additional steps to help Iraq protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable.”

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan was in Canada when the blasts occurred. In an e-mail to Catholic News Service Nov. 1 while he was en route to Baghdad, he criticized the lack of security for Christian places of worship and called on “Iraqi parties to overcome their personal and confessional interests and look for the good of the Iraqi people who have elected them.”

“There are a few churches and Christian institutions left in Baghdad, not so great a number that it is not unreasonable for them to be protected, security-wise,” he said, noting that the security being provided by the government is “far less than what we have hoped for and requested.”

“Christians are slaughtered in Iraq, in their homes and churches, and the so-called ‘free’ world is watching in complete indifference, interested only in responding in a way that is politically correct and economically opportune, but in reality is hypocritical,” said the patriarch, who served as bishop of the New Jersey-based Syrian-rite diocese in the United States and Canada from 1995 until his election as patriarch in 2009.

The patriarch demanded “that the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the International Commission for Civil Rights and the League of Arabic States” condemn the actions at the church and “take the appropriate action to defend innocent Christians brutally singled out because of their religion, in Iraq and some other Middle Eastern countries.”

Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, sent a message of condolence to Pope Benedict. He also condemned the attack as “a deliberate step toward kindling interreligious hatred in the country where, for centuries, Muslims and Christians have lived in peace and consent.”

At the Vatican Nov. 1, Pope Benedict called the incident “savage” and urged international and national authorities to work together to end the “heinous episodes of violence that continue to ravage the people of the Middle East.”

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