Monday, March 12, 2012

Christians in Iraq and Syria face a grim present and an uncertain future.

A few recent news items highlight the difficult circumstances - and increasingly uncertain future - of Christians in Iraq and Syria. First, here is a report from yesterday's edition of the New York Times on the "quiet exodus" of Iraqi Christians from the former 'safe haven' of Kurdistan:
Iraq’s dwindling Christians, driven from their homes by attacks and intimidation, are beginning to abandon the havens they had found in the country’s north, discouraged by unemployment and a creeping fear that the violence they had fled was catching up to them.

Their quiet exodus to Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States is the latest chapter of a seemingly inexorable decline that many religious leaders say tolls the twilight of Christianity in a land where city skylines have long been marked by both minarets and church steeples. Recent assessments say that Iraq’s Christian population has now fallen by more than half since the 2003 American invasion, and with the military’s departure, some Christians say they lost a protector of last resort.
Meanwhile, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times focuses on Syrian Christians' deepening fears about what life might be like for them after the end of the Assad regime:
For 40 years, Um Michael has found comfort and serenity amid the soaring pillars and ancient icons of St. Mary's Greek Orthodox cathedral [in Damascus].

But as a priest offered up a prayer for peace one recent Sunday, the 70-year-old widow dabbed tears from her eyes.

"I was wishing that life would go back to the way it used to be," she said.

At night, Um Michael can hear the echoes of fighting near her home in Bab Touma, the centuries-old Christian quarter of Damascus. Like many Christians here, she wonders whether Syria's increasingly bloody, nearly yearlong uprising could shatter the veneer of security provided by President Bashar Assad's autocratic but secular government.

. . .

"If the regime goes, you can forget about Christians in Syria," said George, a 37-year-old dentist who, like others interviewed, asked to be identified by either a first name or nickname. "Look what happened to the Christians of Iraq. They had to flee everywhere, while most of the churches were attacked and bombed."
George's fears seem to be well-founded, as a report from the Catholic News Service indicates that Syrian Christians have already begun to be targeted by antigovernment forces:
Christians in Syria live in fear of a repeat of persecution like was seen in Iraq, said officials of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.

"The same pattern like in Iraq is re-emerging, as Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians in Syria," said Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria. "Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians."

"We lost Christians in Iraq; if we lose (them) in Syria what will happen to Christians in the Middle East?" said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. "Christians are leaving the region, and we have to work to reduce this loss. Time is not with us. (Syria) is the last castle of Christianity in the Middle East. If they start emigrating from Syria, it is the beginning of the end of Christianity in this area."
Longtime readers of this blog know what I think about all this, and you also know what I'd like you to do in response: pray for the Christians of the Middle East, and tell others - especially elected officials - about what is happening to them. AMDG.


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