Politics/United States

Patriarch Sako: Refugee Situation Escalating, U.S. Military Action Disappointing

Says Iraq’s Christians Face Hard Dilemma: Emigrate or Stay

By Staff Reporter

VATICAN CITY, August 11, 2014 (Zenit.org) – The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon has highlighted the extent of the refugee situation in northern Iraq, warned of “escalating” humanitarian needs, and said the hardships facing Iraqis should stir consciences into action.

In a statement issued Sunday, Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako said the “level of disaster is extreme” and that more must be done to “dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists.” 

He added that in the Christian villages around Mosul up to the borders of Kurdistan Region “the churches are deserted and desecrated.”

Specifically, he noted, “five bishops are out of their bishoprics, the priests and nuns left their missions and institutions leaving everything behind”. He said families have “fled with their children abandoning everything else!”

The situation facing Iraqi Christians has deteriorated as the forces of Islamic State (IS) have expanded across the Nineveh Plain. In July, the terrorist group issued an ultimatum demanding Christians convert, pay an “infidel” tax or be killed. Thousands of Iraqi faithful fled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.  

In his statement, Patriarch Sako decried how children and elderly in the region are sick and dying, along with the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan Region who lost everything.

As IS militants are still advancing, humanitarian aid is insufficient, he claimed. 70,000 displaced Christians and other religious minorities have fled to Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil, where they are seeking refuge in churches, schools or living in “deplorable” conditions on the streets and public parks. 

As humanitarian needs escalate, the Chaldean Patriarch criticized the international coordination as slow and therefore limiting the effectiveness of helping thousands awaiting immediate support.

Although the churches are doing all they can, he said more must be done by others. President Obama’s decision to only give military assistance to protect Erbil “is disappointing,” he said, as they are not going to attack the IS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.

Although Obama has said he is interested in preventing the Islamist militants from establishing a caliphate in Iraq, many await concrete military and humanitarian action.

Despite an increasing number of US air strikes, many claim the operation is insufficient to destroy Islamist extremist forces.

Patriarch Sako also criticised the Iraqi government. “While the country is under fire, the politicians in Baghdad are fighting for power,” he said.  

The BBC reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has been criticized for sectarian policies. His push to serve a third term is also adding to tension. 

The Patriarch expressed concern that “in the end, perhaps Mosul will not be liberated neither the villages in the Nineveh Plain,” as other Islamic extremists continue to join IS from around the world.

The choice of the refugee families, he said, is either to migrate or to stay. If they migrate, he asked, “do they have the necessary documents and money?” If they stay, he wondered what their fate will really be, whether their schools will be reopened, and if they will be able to retain their property, jobs and belongings. 

He closed by calling on all people and organizations to reflect on these questions and to take action to help the Iraqi people.

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Steve will join the Al Kresta Show on Ave Maria Radio from 5:20 – 6:00 to discuss the slaughter of Christians in Iraq and the silence of the world.

Iraq’s Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako: a Voice in the Desert

Catholic Leader Appeals to Pope, Brother Bishops: ‘Speeches Are Good for Nothing’

ROME, August 08, 2014 (Zenit.org) – By Mark von Riedemann

“It is time to take a principled stand: the situation calls for concrete action, a gesture of solidarity in the face of an existential crisis—‘we will either be or will not be.’”

It is an angry condemnation of an indifferent world. The words are unpolished and bitter. They exude disillusionment; they reject a world obsessed with consumption, in awe of comfort, blind to evil and deaf to the cry of the innocent. “In fact, speeches are good for nothing, so too declarations that rehash condemnations and indignation; the same can be said for protest marches.”

These words are taken from the Aug. 5, 2014, letter by Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. It is addressed to Pope Francis, his fellow prelates leading the Churches in the Middle East and the presidents of Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world. He laments the world’s silence about plight of Christians in his country. What is different about this letter, however, is the tone. Over the years the Patriarch has warned, cajoled, and appealed. Today he is shouting; a prophetic voice shouting that without immediate international intervention the ancient Christian community of Iraq will cease to exist.

When Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, there were more than 60,000 Christians living in Mosul. Today there are at most 200, mainly those too poor or weak to flee. This microcosm reflects the wider state of Christianity across Iraq. Prior to the 2003 US-led military invasion Christians numbered 1.4 million. Today the tally stands at 300,000 and, thanks to the rapid advance of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) across swathes of Syria and Iraq, those figures are declining rapidly. Patriarch Sako estimates that in the near future Christians could number only 50,000.

The militant Islamists seek to establish a caliphate across the Middle East. These Sunni jihadists embrace a radical form of Islam that echoes the 7thcentury. Anger at corrupt regimes, the exploitation of oil wealth by the West—and the moral decay of this same West—has engendered an aggressive, regressive ideology, rejecting all that does not coincide with this fundamentalist vision of Islam.

Local Christians too have been given an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the ‘jizya’—a tax levied on an Islamic state’s non-Muslim citizens—leave or die. Half a million Christians and Muslims have fled seeking shelter in Christian villages near the Kurdish controlled regions in northern Iraq. In his letter, Patriarch Sako is no less stinging in his reproach of the silence of moderate Muslims: “We are equally shocked and indignant by the absence of a vigorous position taken by the Muslims and their religious leaders, not the least because the actions of these factions represent a menace for the Muslims themselves.”

This leaves the Church alone calling for the unity and the restoration of the religious mosaic that was Iraq. “As for the Church, she finds herself completely alone, more than ever; nevertheless her leaders are strongly required to react before it is too late in applying the necessary pressure on the international community as well as those other decision-makers in view of fundamental answers necessary to the scandalous crimes and the destructive conspiracies that affect, above all, unarmed citizens in Iraq, Syria, and in Palestine-Gaza.”

In an earlier, more hopeful interview with the Patriarch, I asked him about how he kept his faith. “It is not easy. Sometimes we are upset, we are exhausted,” he said. “I studied history—Christian history and ancient history in Iraq and also the Church fathers. It was the same situation. Our church was a martyr Church, but always there was hope—as Tertullian says the blood of the martyrs is the seed of faith and I think this is our hope and I do believe Islam will change. Islam cannot stay as it is now. Fundamentalism, extremism has no future.”

At this writing, there are reports that the US has begun executing bombing raids targeting the Islamic State in northern Iraq. Help may be on its way. Thanks be to God.

Mark von Riedemann is the International Director of Communications for Aid to the Church in Need.

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UPDATE: Glad the Pope finally calls on the world to step in and “end the crisis” and help the Christians being slaughtered and displaced in Iraq. I hope this means more than just following along behind ISIS to pick up the dead bodies, feed and care for the raped and starving:

(Reuters) – Pope Francis appealed to world leaders on Thursday to help end the crisis in northern Iraq after a sweeping advance by radical Islamic state militants forced thousands of residents of Iraq’s biggest Christian town to flee their homes.

“His Holiness addresses an urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, to act to protect those affected or threatened by violence and to provide aid, especially for the most urgent needs of the many who have been forced to flee and who depend on the solidarity of others,” the Vatican said in a statement.
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Iraqi Patriarch Sends SOS After ISIS Takes Over Plain of Nineveh

Following Last Night’s Destruction, Christians Walking Toward Kurdish Cities

ROME, August 07, 2014 (Zenit.org) – Here is a message sent today from Baghdad to Aid to the Church in Need, from Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, president of the bishops of Iraq.

Chaldean Patriarchate’s Appeal for Urgent Help SOS

Imagine these guys entering your town; they say they will someday put their flag over the White House.

The ISIS militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the plain of Nineveh, during the night of 6th-7th of August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but the clothes on their backs. An exodus, a real via crucis, Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter …

Regarding the churches and church properties in the villages now being occupied by the ISIS militants, we have reports of destruction and desecration. The old manuscripts and documents (1500) are being burnt.

As evident to all, the Central Government is incapable of enforcing law and order in this part of the country. There are also doubts about the capacity of the Kurdistan Region alone to defend the fierce advance of the jihadists. Clearly, there is a lack of cooperation between the Central Government and the Regional Autonomous Government. This “vacuum” is profited by the ISIS to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.

We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all and all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!

+Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon

President of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq

Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)

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