WASHINGTON – A U.S. bishop, who described the situation of Christians in Iraq as “particularly dire,” called for an end to the continuing violence against the country’s religious minorities.
“As an expression of solidarity with our brother bishops in Iraq, we urge U.S. and Iraqi authorities and religious leaders within Iraq to do everything possible to help end the violence and the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities,” said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy.
Those who remain in Iraq continue to be targeted with acts of violence, he said in a statement released June 27.
“These targeted actions against Christians and other religious minorities are not simply signs of general societal violence, but are also attacks on Christianity and religious freedom by the most extreme elements within Iraqi society,” said the bishop.
“Christians continue to suffer a rash of killings, hostage takings for the purpose of extortion, destruction of churches and adjacent properties and specific threats against their communities,” he said.
Religious freedom also is disregarded as churches are told to remove crosses, non-Muslims are required to pay religious taxes and Christian women are ordered to wear veils, he said.
Bishop Wenski said that as a result of the violence and restrictions on religious freedom parishes, seminaries and convents have closed because many Christians no longer feel safe gathering in them.
“Forced to flee to neighboring countries as refugees or to other areas of Iraq as internally displaced persons, Christians fear an existential threat to their ancient presence in Iraq,” said Bishop Wenski.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped from about 1.2 million to an estimated several hundred thousand. Figures from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees revealed last year that about 44 percent of Iraqi refugees are Christian, although Christians account for just 4 percent of the total population of Iraq.
Bishop Wenski noted the “particularly disturbing” killings in early June of a priest and three subdeacons in Mosul. Quoting a recent prayer of Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Wenski expressed hope that the killings would inspire a renewed resolve to reject hatred and violence and work toward reconciliation in Iraq.