Fate of Iraqi Christians will worsen, Catholic experts fear
(Photo: Mourners at a 2 Nov 2010 funeral for victims of the attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church/Saad Shalash)
With al-Qaeda declaring war on Christians in Iraq and no end to political instability in sight, Catholic experts on the Middle East fear the fate of the minority Christian community there will only worsen.
The pessimism followed the bloodiest attack against Iraq’s Christian minority since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed on Sunday when security forces stormed a church that had been raided by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen.
The bloodbath struck fear deep into the hearts of remaining Iraqi Christians and confirmed some of the worst concerns of a Vatican summit on the Middle East held last month that warned of a continuing exodus of Christians from the lands of the Bible.
“In Iraq, every attack prompts the exodus of thousands of Christians,” said Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit who is one of the Vatican’s leading experts on Islam.
(Photo: Funeral on November 2, 2010 of a victim of the attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad/Thaier al-Sudani)
“As the terrorists themselves say, their purpose is to eliminate the Christian presence from those lands either by physically destroying Christians or by terrorizing them into renouncing the faith or fleeing,” said Father David Jaeger, a Franciscan expert on the Holy Land and the Middle East.
Two days after the Baghdad church attack, which Pope Benedict condemned as ferocious because it took place in a house of God, the al-Qaeda front in Iraq said Christians were “legitimate targets” wherever they are. The group, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), ridiculed the pope as “the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican” and warned that Christians would be “extirpated and dispersed” from Iraq.