Monday, July 13, 2009

Church Bombings in Iraq: An Unquiet Sunday

About 750,000 - or maybe 1,000,000 - Christians live or lived in Iraq. The numbers vary with who's doing the writing. However many Iraqi Christians there are, they had an unsettling Sunday, with churches in and near Baghdad bombed. Four Christians are dead and 32 people were wounded. The dead were killed near a church in Baghdad's Al-Mohandiseen. (AP)

The Pope "said he would 'pray for the conversion of the hearts of those who carried out the violence', in the message sent by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone to Iraqi church leaders...." (AP)

I've pointed out, in another blog, that Islamic terrorists are quite open-minded about bombing mosques, as well as other targets (June 8, 2009, June 21, 2009) That may be why Iraqi authorities have been so careful about guarding Islamic religious sites.
"...Baghdad security spokesman Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi forces had stepped up protection of religious sites, often targets for militants trying to cause sectarian tension.

" 'Today we took measures to redeploy the security forces to concentrate on the vital targets for us, like mosques and Hussainiyas (Shi'ite mosques),' Moussawi said...." (Reuters)
Yesterday's attack on churches may be the terrorists' way of getting out of the rut they've been in lately, blowing up Islamic targets. The attacks, coupled with what seems to be a lack of focus on protecting non-Muslim sites, hasn't added to the serenity of Iraqi Christians.
"..."We had warned the authorities that we would be targeted, that our churches would be struck again, but we got no response," said Chaldean Bishop Shleimon Warduni, standing in front of a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad.

" 'They left our churches without protection.'

"William Warida, a Christian and chairman of a Baghdad human rights organisation, said militants were attacking Christians to make international headlines.

" 'The Christians are the weakest link in the chain of Iraqi society,' he said...." (Reuters)
Mr. Warida isn't the only Iraqi with a personal stake in the country's security and law enforcement, now that coalition forces are withdrawing.
"...'After a year and a half of calm and now the bombings and targeting of Christians is back?' said Father Saad Sirop Hanna, a Catholic priest in Baghdad. 'We are concerned.'

"Many of Iraq's estimated 1 million Christians have fled the country after targeted attacks by extremists. In October, more than a thousand Iraqi families fled Mosul after they were reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists, who apparently ordered them to convert to Islam or face possible death. At least 14 Christians were killed in Mosul in the first two weeks of October.

"One Christian Iraqi, interviewed outside Baghdad's Sacred Heart Church -- one of three churches bombed Sunday afternoon -- said the bomb went off shortly before 5 p.m., as members were arriving for Sunday evening mass. No one was hurt, Sabhan George told CNN, but the bomb damaged the church building and some cars outside.

" George said he is concerned about the church bombings. If this continues, he said, 'there will be no Christians left in Iraq.'

"The first attack took place Saturday night at St. Joseph's Church in western Baghdad, according to an Interior Ministry official. Two bombs placed inside the church exploded about 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). No one was in the church at the time of the attack...." (CNN)
The Iraqi government says that they'll be keeping an eye on Christian churches now: which is likely enough, considering the diplomatic and public relations situations Iraq's new leaders have to deal with.

With thousands of miles and a largish ocean between me and Iraq, living in a country which hasn't seen all that much physical violence directed against Christians in recent years, it's easy for me to get behind the words of the Holy Father and repeat his "pray for the conversion of the hearts of those who carried out the violence" - which is good advice, by the way.

I hope that the Iraqi government follows through on its promise to protect non-Muslim Iraqis - and that my brothers and sisters in Christ, and all Iraqis, will be physically safe in the months and years ahead, make use of the many opportunities to practice forgiveness (and common sense) and that they will come to follow God's will more closely.

Sounds overly pious, doesn't it? So be it.

Finally, a suggestion: pray for those who died. Here's a traditional Catholic prayer for this occasion:
Eternal rest grant unto them oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest peace. Amen.
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