Monday, November 15, 2010
Christians in Iraq: Who are they? How long have they been there? How can we help?
The people of Iraq have endured warfare and embargoes for decades. The recent tragic attack on the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad reflects the increased sufferings of Iraqi Christians today.
Both Pope Benedict XVI and Francis Cardinal George, OMI, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have once again called Catholics to pray and to be in solidarity with the suffering Christians of Iraq. Locally, the Assyrian Church of the East is very active in raising awareness of the plight of the Iraqi people. Also, the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago has issued a statement deploring acts of violence against Christians and their churches in Iraq.
Christians make up a small minority, perhaps, about three percent of the population of Iraq. The numbers are steadily decreasing due to the displacement of millions, departures and violent deaths. This is tragic.
Who Are the Christians of Iraq? Christians in Iraq include Christians from the East – Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean and Syrian Catholics and from the West - the Roman Catholic Church and Christians from Anglican, Reformation and Evangelical traditions. Only the Chaldean
Catholic, Syrian Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches are in union with the Church of Rome and its Bishop, the Pope.
How Long Have They Been There? The largest Church in Iraq, the Assyrian Church of the East, traces its foundation back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries of Christianity. In the 13th century Catholic missionary orders from the west - particularly Franciscans and Dominicans – were active among the faithful of the Assyrian Church of the East. In the 16th century, a Catholic counterpoint, the Chaldean Catholic Church, formed from the Church of the East and retained the Eastern liturgies and observances. In the past two centuries, the Western Christians mentioned above established churches in Iraq. All are experiencing the desperate situations of their members. (See source)
How Can We Help? Perhaps, it is only in the last decades, and under the unfortunate circumstances of war, that we Christians in the United States have become aware of our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. As Christians and as citizens we cannot ignore their plight.
Cardinal George in the November 9th letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to President Obama wrote, "Having invaded Iraq, our nation has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves". The Cardinal urged the President to "take additional steps now to help Iraq protect its citizens, especially Christians and others who are victims of organized attacks." (See source)
These members of our human and Christian family are now refugees and victims of war and violence and are in desperate need of assistance. For them and for all the suffering people in Iraq, let us pray unceasingly. Let us provide financial support through donation to a relief organization that aids the destitute people of Iraq. One such organization is Catholic Relief Services. Checks may be made out to Catholic Relief Services and mailed to Adrienne Curry, Peace and Justice Office, Archdiocese of Chicago, Post Office Box 1979, Chicago, Illinois 60690.