The war against Christianity continues to progress in the Middle Eastern countries.
From DICI's no. 311 issue, we offer some news from the Middle East concerning the persecution being waged against Christianity.
Iraq and Syria: Christians who are suffering for their faith
On February 18, 2015, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) published testimony by Fr. Andrzej Halemba, director of the Near East department of ACN, concerning the situation in Iraq. On a visit in early February in the autonomous province of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, to meet the 120,000 Christians who have been refugees there since the summer of 2014, Fr. Halemba reports that:
in late January 2015, the city of Kirkuk, which has major petroleum resources, was attacked by the so-called Islamic State. That same night, many families of refugees fled from Kirkuk, leaving everything behind.”
Traumatized by their flight from the plain of Nineveh, he explains, they “now doubt their long-term safety, even in the Kurdish provincial capital of Erbil.”
Archbishop Jean-Benjamin Sleiman, Latin Rite Archbishop of Baghdad (Iraq), declared in late August 2014:
Unless there is peace in the Middle East, I do not think that Europe will be calm. This sort of phenomenon does not stop at territorial boundaries, and I think that Europe has the greatest interest in bringing peace to the Middle East and returning to its classic policy, which was much wiser, certainly more humane that may be today.”
The Christian community in Baghdad has lost more than half of its members. “With their departure,” said Archbishop Sleiman with regret, “Iraqi society is being impoverished. In losing its variety, it is closing in on itself and becoming radicalized.”
Fr. Andrzej Halemba also traveled to Syria:
We are particularly worried about the Christians in Aleppo and Damascus, and also about those who are living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Fear is everywhere. It is intense, almost tangible, especially since the proclamation of the so-called new Islamic State. Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo told me: ‘The Christians of Aleppo are afraid that what happened on Mosul could happen to them.’
This is a new and unfortunately well-founded fear of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Islamic State openly displays, for everyone to see, its murderous objectives against all who do not submit to their extremism. They are proud of their cruelty towards ‘non-believers’ and coldly raise their sabers.”
What makes the situation of the Syrians even more desperate, Fr. Halemba explains, is that the international community has plainly looked the other way. (Source: aed—DICI no. 311, 2-27-2015)
Libya: 21 Christians decapitated by the Islamic State
Twenty-one Egyptian Christians were decapitated in Libya by men claiming to represent the Islamic State (IS). The video of the execution was circulated on the Internet on February 15, 2015, with the title “A message signed with blood to the nation of the Cross”. The Egyptian laborers, all of them originally from the province of Minya, south of Cairo, where there is an important Coptic community, had been kidnapped in early January.
On February 15, RFI announced that they were executed “among other Egyptians in Libya because they were Christians, who, in the eyes of their assassins, represent Westerners.” The images show them dressed in orange, lined up on a beach by men dressed in black who force them to kneel down. The viewer sees the victims moving their lips. Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina, the Coptic Catholic bishop of Gizen, when asked by Fides on February 17, answered that without a doubt it was a prayer: “At the moment when they were barbarically put to death,” they repeated “Lord Jesus Christ”. The name of “Jesus was the last word on their lips.”
Superimposed text explains that the video is intended for “People of the Cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church”. A man wearing a combat uniform speaks in English with a knife in his hand while the other executioners, completely dressed in black and silent, stand behind each prisoner. “Today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya… The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood,” he threatened, before the executioners decapitated the 21 Egyptians with knives.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for seven days of national mourning. Less than 24 hours later, combat planes of the Egyptian air force bombarded positions of the Islamic State in Libya.
Throughout the world, the attack evoked many indignant reactions. The press release of the President of the French Republic, published on February 15, did not go unnoticed, since Francois Hollande, while condemning the act, preferred to remain silent about its deeper reasons. In fact he “omitted” any mention of the religious affiliation of the 21 Copts, referring only to “Egyptian nationals”.
In a communique published on its website on February 17, L’Oeuvre d’Orient, a French relief organization for Christians in the Middle East, said that it hoped that “the Christian religious affiliation of the victims will not be hushed up,” demanding that “this should be mentioned clearly in the press releases from the Presidency of the Republic and that France should offer its condolences to the Coptic Patriarch.”
(Sources: apic/rif/fides/lefigaro/elysee/oeuvre-orient—DICI no. 311, 2-27-2015)