Mideast strife, Iraqi Christian leaders are increasingly concerned about their
community’s future in the region.
“Maybe we will follow in the steps of our Jewish brothers,” said Monsignor Pios Cacha, an Iraqi Christian leader, AFP reported.
Monsignor Cacha’s reference is to Iraq’s once vibrant Jewish community that has been all but erased.
During the first half of the 20th century, Iraq was home to a Jewish community estimated around 130,000, which had resided there since antiquity.
But increasing persecution and Iraq’s involvement against Israel in the 1948 War of Independence led to this community’s demise. More than 120,000 Jews fled between 1949 and 1951.
Similarly, Iraq’s Christian community was estimated at around 1-1.5 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion that removed brutal Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein but also unleashed Islamic militant attacks. Today the community is estimated to be 500,000.
One of the worst attacks occurred in 2010 when Islamist militants killed 44 worshippers and two priests in Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church, according to AFP.
The attack “was a catastrophe for the Christians, and it broke the back of our presence in this country,” says Cacha. “It is the catastrophe that led to emptying the country of Christians.”
Similar to the sectarian battles in Iraq, Syrian Christians have also been forced to flee their ancient homes as fighting has raged as part of that country’s civil war.
One of newly elected Pope Francis’s biggest challenges as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is to confront the persecution and exodus of Christians from their Middle Eastern homeland.
Given that Latin America, especially Argentina, is home to one of the largest Arab Christian communities outside of the Middle East, Christian leaders from the region hope that will make Pope Francis more receptive to their plight.
“Choosing his papal name to be Pope Francis, and coming from the southern hemisphere and not from a rich country like Germany, he has set the tone for his papal term as one of understanding,” said Lebanese Father John Maroun from the Mariamite Maronite order, the Jordanian news site Al-Bawaba reported.
“He’ll work to consolidate the presence of Christians in the Middle East,” Father Maroun added.