Words seem inadequate to describe our incredulity at the horrendous events in Iraq, with reports of beheadings and crucifixions of Christians at the hands of Islamic State militants.
As observers half a world away, the only meaningful words we can offer are prayers.
In this context, we join Pope Francis in praying for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities who have suffered and died in recent months. This Sunday, Aug. 17, U.S. Catholics are being asked to pray for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland.
The request for prayers was made by Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee of International Justice and Peace. Bishop Pates has provided a prayer, written by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Rafael Sako of Iraq, to recite:
“Lord, the plight of (Iraq) is deep and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening. Therefore, we ask you Lord to spare (their) lives, and to grant (them) patience, and courage to continue (their) witness of Christian values with trust and hope.
“Lord, peace is the foundation of life; grant us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy. Glory be to you forever.”
This Sunday’s prayer initiative follows the call of Pope Francis for the entire church to join in prayerful solidarity for an end to the violence in Iraq, as well as the merciless persecution of Christians.
“Thousands of people, including many Christians, have been chased from their homes in a brutal way; children die of thirst and hunger during the flight; women are kidnapped; people are massacred; violence of every kind; destruction everywhere,” Pope Francis said following the Angelus Aug. 10. “One cannot generate hatred in God’s name. One cannot make war in God’s name.”
The most recent incidents of persecution in the Middle East began in June when terrorists calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS) seized control of Mosul and other parts of Iraq. The militants ordered non-Muslim residents of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to leave, pay an Islamic jizya tax or be killed. Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad reported in July that the militants marked Christian homes in red paint with the letter “N,” for “Nazarat,” meaning Christian.
Catholic Iraqi refugees who escaped to Lebanon spoke Aug. 8 to Catholic News Service, recounting the horrifying encounters with ISIS militants. Most lamented leaving their homeland with very few possessions. Yet they were thankful to be alive. Some 35,000 Christians lived in Mosul before the ISIS invasion. Today there are none.
“There is no future for Christians in Iraq anymore. I left everything for my religion, so I have to trust in the Lord that he will take care of us,” Richid, 49, a Chaldean Catholic father of six told CNS.
The Vatican is also stepping up it diplomatic activities in hopes of ending immediate violence.
On Aug. 12, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue called on Muslim leaders to condemn the “unspeakable criminal acts” of the ISIS militants in Iraq.
As we watch and wait for a speedy resolution to this crisis, let us continue to keep the Iraqi people in prayer. These are the only meaningful words we can offer.