On Sunday afternoon a report on CBC Radio One aired about some of the Christians in Iraq taking up arms and forming a militia to face ISIS, (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). It wasn't terribly surprising to hear as they have suffered incredible persecution since the fall of Sadam Hussein which have only intensified with the rise of ISIS. Christians have been executed and churches have been bombed in some cases and taken over by ISIS in other cases. The Christians were initially given the opportunity to pay a hefty tax to remain in the villages and homes, but the option was removed and the only choice left was to convert or flee for their lives.
Some estimate the Christian population of Iraq to have been well in excess of one million not so long ago, but few estimate there are more than 200,000 left in the land and most of those have fled to Kurdish territory within Iraq. Both the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a historic concentration of Christians have been taken over by ISiS and Christian symbolism removed.
A week ago the New York Times ran a feature article on the prevailing silence about the Christians suffering in Iraq. The writer gave two reasons for the silence. The press is said to be silent because they operate under the assumption that Christians in Iraq are simply a remnant of white European colonialism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the Christians in Iraq are part of the ancient Chaldean Church which traces its roots directly back to the Apostle Thomas in the first century. The church was in Iraq for four centuries before the religion of Islam was founded.
The Times also suggested that just as the press is silent, so too evangelical Christians who are often enthusiastic sympathizers with the State of Israel understand neither the orthodox traditions of the Arab church, nor their lack of warmth towards Israel and have therefore been slow to rally behind the cause of the Christians persecuted in Iraq.
The Baptist World Alliance is actively engaged in supporting the Christians who have been displaced from Iraq. To read more go to
In recent months Pope Francis has also been calling the church to prayer for the end of persecution in Iraq and now for peace. He has said that he is in constant prayer for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.
In the midst of all of this along with wars and tensions in Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, South Sudan, Syria, Cardinal Collins recently called for religions leaders in the city to join him to pray for the peace of the world at St. Paul's Basilica at Queen St. E. and Power St. I was honoured to be invited and to hear various leaders offer readings and prayers from their own traditions. Many of the lay people were wearing buttons bearing a written message. The likes of this button I have never seen in my life. Even an Islamic Imam who had joined us to pray wore the button which said, "Stop Killing Christians!"
The service included a reading from a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Father Walter Makarenko whom I had first met on a Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces many years ago. A Bishop from the Syriac Catholic church also participated as did a number of senior Protestant clergy from the city. Two Rabbis offered readings along with clerics of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. As we gathered beforehand there was a very sombre mood some sensing in the tensions of the world a repeat of one hundred years ago when the First World War broke out. All were anxious to pray.
The most moving moment in the service came when the Rev. Niaz Toma, Pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in Hamilton and St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Church in Oakville read from Romans 8. The Chaldean Christian Church of Iraq is one of the oldest in the world and now seems to face extinction if not annihilation at the hands of ISIS and Father Toma was reading from Romans 8. The words had never sounded more powerful than they did that day when a priest whose own people were in the midst of horrendous persecution read them.
Romans 8: 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sunday's report on the CBC ended by saying, "All these Iraqi Christians have left is their faith." If Father Toma's reading was any indication of the level of their faith, at two thousand years they have only just begun.
The prayers of Cardinal Collins that day also bear repeating,
With you is life, truth and peace, O God, which you have placed in the heart of every human being. Forgive the irreverence done towards these gifts, creating despair and discord in so many lives. We come together to restore our attention to the common bonds of our humanity and to pray. Attune our ears and hearts once again to your gifts of life, truth and peace.
O God of life, truth and peace, hear our prayer for all those who are suffering the scourge of war, violence and persecution. Restore them to fullness of life. Let truth prevail over injustice, and may a profound and abiding peace spread throughout the world. For this we pay.
Pray for Peace,