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Expulsion of Christians a ‘crime against humanity,’ Mosul bishop says

Seeking refuge: An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul sits inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq, on July 20. Photo: CNS/Reuters

Seeking refuge: An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul sits inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq, on July 20. Photo: CNS/Reuters

BACKED up by death threats and property seizures, the expulsion of the entire Christian community from Mosul is “a crime against humanity”, an archbishop from Mosul said.

Chaldean Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona said the Islamic State, which took control of Iraq’s second-largest city in early June, is carrying out “religious cleansing”.

“It’s an ugly word, but it is what happened and is happening,” he told Vatican Radio on July 22.

Iraq’s Christian leaders are tired of people making appeals and declarations about their plight without backing up their words with real action, the archbishop said.

“Words do nothing today,” he said.

Support and prayers are needed, he said, but “we also expect all Christians to show solidarity with concrete action” and “without being afraid to talk about this tragedy”.

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said: “We need action first. The world is not bothering with what is happening to Christians in Mosul.”

The world’s leaders, including those of the United States, must live up to stated commitment to promoting what is good, he told Catholic News Service by telephone on July 23.

“They must do something, because they can,” he said.

The international community must help those being displaced, not because they were Christians, but because they were human beings, he said. Because it overthrew Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the United States in particular must be asked: “Where are the human rights? Where is the democracy?” he said.

Bishop Warduni called for a complete end to selling weapons to Islamic State fighters.

“There are no words to describe them,” he said. “They have no conscience, no religion. Even though they talk about God, they don’t know God,” he said of the militant group that has declared a caliphate – a state governed by a religious leader.

The militants forced thousands of Christians from their homes, seizing their property and then robbed them of their belongings at checkpoints as they fled the city.

Bishop Warduni said, “They take everything, even a wedding ring from a widow, medicine from the hands of a small child, they just (pour) it on the ground.”

The militants confiscated the cars people were fleeing in, he said, forcing the occupants, including “small children, old people, sick people, to walk on foot in 48-degree heat.”

Bishop Warduni was one of a number of Iraqi Christian bishops who gathered in Ankawa, a northern town near Irbil, on July 21-22 to talk about the crisis unfolding in Mosul with representatives from the United Nations, UNICEF, Caritas and local government leaders.

At the end of the two-day meeting, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako and bishops from the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Armenian churches called on the Iraqi Government to “stop the catastrophe” and guarantee the “necessary protection” needed for Christians and other minorities being targeted by the fighters.

“A crime is a crime, and it cannot be denied or justified. We expect concrete actions to assure our people, not just press releases of denunciation and condemnation,” the statement said.

The bishops also called on the Iraqi Government to provide basic services, housing, schools, aid and financial support to those who have been forced from their homes and livelihoods. They thanked the regional Kurdish Government for its hospitality and willingness to protect fleeing families.

Meanwhile, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 Muslim countries, condemned the forced displacements in Mosul and called the action “a crime that cannot be tolerated”.

“The practices of the Islamic State have nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, fairness, freedom of faith and co-existence,” the organisation said in a press release on July 21.

According to a recent report by the Christian Aid Program, CAPNI, all churches and monasteries in Mosul, numbering about 30 structures, were confiscated and are under the Islamic State’s control.

Crosses were removed from Christian places of worship, which, in many cases, were then looted, burned, destroyed or occupied by the militant group.

Shiite mosques also were demolished and all Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in the city were destroyed, too, the report said.

Such destruction was endangering many of the nation’s ancient historical, cultural and religious sites, including the tomb of Jonah, which reportedly was broken into in mid-July, the report said.

All non-Sunni communities living in Mosul were being targeted, it said, including Shiite Muslims.

Those who escaped Mosul and found shelter in surrounding villages were still facing hardship, it said, as the Islamic State cut off electric and water supplies to neighbouring villages.

There is no drinking water in some areas and the Islamic State was preventing medicine and other hospital supplies from getting past the areas it controls.

The fighters also closed the city’s banks, CAPNI reported, so many people who wanted to leave Mosul were delaying their departure because they couldn’t access their own bank accounts and they couldn’t find buyers for their homes given the “frozen” housing market, it said.

Most city services had “totally collapsed” and the private sector was “almost paralysed”, it said.

Meanwhile, Zenit reported that Pope Francis had called the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Youssef III Younan to reassure him that he was following news out of Iraq with concern, especially the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul.

Pope Francis phoned Patriarch Younan soon after reciting the Angelus on July 20 to express his solidarity with Iraqi Christians, Vatican Radio reported.

Islamic militants threatened Mosul’s Christians with death and seizure of their homes unless they left or converted to their form of Islamic belief. Iraq’s second-largest city is now without a Christian presence for the first time in nearly 2000 years.

During the nine-minute phone call, the patriarch thanked the Pope and asked him to intensify his efforts to engage world leaders, bringing them face to face with the facts on the ground.

Specifically, he underscored that in the province of Nineveh a massive religious “cleansing” campaign was underway to rid the region of those who did not share the beliefs of the new occupiers.

At the end of the call, Pope Francis bestowed his apostolic blessing upon all eastern Christians with the assurance that he “will always keep them in his prayers for peace and security”.

At his traditional Angelus blessing, the Pope offered prayers for Iraqi Christians who “are persecuted, chased away, forced to leave their houses without the possibility of taking anything with them”, and called for dialogue to resolve armed conflicts.

Patriarch Younan recently denounced an arson attack by members of the Islamic State on the episcopal headquarters of the Syriac-Catholic Church in Mosul.

CNS and Zenit

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