Virtual Voices

Iraqi Christians face dangers

Religion

Iraqi Christians celebrated Easter dangerously this year. With the rest of the world, they marked the 4,000th Iraqi death, mourned the abduction and death of a Christian leader, and faced more religiously-motivated attacks.

Earlier this month, church workers found the body of abducted Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in a shallow grave near Mosul, Iraq. Pope Benedict XVI called the death "an inhuman act of violence" and condemned the war in his Palm Sunday sermon, saying, "Enough with the slaughters. Enough with the violence. Enough with the hatred in Iraq!" Since Rahho's death, other Mosul Christians have been kidnapped or attacked, Compass Direct News reports.

Rahho is one of several Christian clerics murdered since the war began. In Mosul last June, armed men killed a Chaldean priest and three deacons. The year before, Father Paulos Iksander was kidnapped and beheaded. According to Nina Shea in National Review, the list of Christians tortured and killed includes children and lay people.

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A study by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government found that between 104,000 and 223,000 Iraqis have died violent deaths since the invasion. BBC News says the war has uprooted over 4.5 million Iraqis, and Christians number among the unsettled. According to French Bishop Marc Stenger, half of Iraq's 700,000 Christians are fleeing the country. France is granting asylum to 500 Iraqi Christians - a move some say discriminates against Muslims.

Christians experienced discrimination under Saddam Hussein as well, but Shea says as long as the Bush administration doesn't acknowledge religious persecution, the lot of Iraqi Christians won't improve:

No policies exist to address their specific needs in Iraq or facilitate their finding refuge abroad. No programs exist to train and support them to police their own villages - more critical than ever now that the military surge has flushed terror northward.

Despite the dangers, Iraqi Christians cling to faith. Mosul still celebrated Easter, and the Daily Progress quotes the daughter of an Iraqi minister: "Even during the worst threats, they still come to church."

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