Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rome, Italy - Prayer vigil for the Christians being persecuted in Iraq

On August 15th, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, the Community of Sant’Egidio of Rome gathered together for a prayer vigil for the protection and safety of the Christians being
persecuted or threatened in Iraq and Syria.
We thus joined with the prayer intention promoted by the Italian Church following the exacerbation of the situation in Northern Iraq and with the many appeals issued by Pope Francis himself in defense of those that are persecuted because of their faith:  “The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; people massacred; violence of every kind; destruction of historical, cultural and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God and humanity”. These are some of his words.
The Community of Sant’Egidio has been following for some time the life of the Christian communities in the Middle East and in particular in Iraq. During the 1980s approximately ten thousand Chaldeans - the Chaldean Church is one of the most ancient of Christianity and is one of the Churches that is present in the area -  who were fleeing from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the war with Iran, were helped by the Community to find a safe haven in the Middle East or in the West. Other solidarity and assistance initiatives were carried out on behalf of Iraqi Christians, in particular in support of hospitals and centers for the elderly in Baghdad, Karakosh and other cities. Remembering this history of closeness and help many Chaldeans attended the prayer at Saint Bartholomew and animated the vigil with their chants.  
Saint Bartholomew on the Tiber Island was not chosen without reason, being the memorial of
the Christian martyrs of our times. The basilica holds, among others, the relics of two victims of Christian repression in Iraq: Fr. Raghid Ghanni, killed in Mosul in 2007 together with three subdeacons (his robe was placed on the altar together with the Scriptures during the celebrations) and Mons. Bulos Faraj Raho, Chaldean bishop of Mosul, who was kidnapped and died in captivity in March 2008.
The hope is that this prayer, together with the mobilization and prayer of many others, may stop the violence that is being inflicted on Christians, on Yazidis (a very particular religious minority that lives in the area), on the Muslims themselves (some 15 Sunni imams and ulemas have been killed in Mosul because they defended the Christians of that city) and may create a different outlook. It is necessary to overcome the temptations of indifference and resignation, to find paths of peace and assurance that will preserve a millenial pluralistic presence, a tradition of coexistence that has never been in as much jeopardy as it is today.

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