Bishop Calls for Christians to Leave Iraq

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Following a deadly attack on Catholics in a Baghdad Cathedral last week, a Syrian Orthodox Archbishop in Britain is calling for all Christians to leave the country because the government is too weak to protect them against the on-going  ethnic cleansing of all non-Muslim peoples in that country.

CNN is reporting that Archbishop Athanasios Dawood slammed the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect the rights of minorities and urged Christians to leave the country before it gets any worse.

“I say clearly and now – the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one,” said Dawood, according to prepared remarks he sent to CNN.

“The Iraqi government is weak, biased, if not extremist. It does not protect us and the other minorities. It has ignored our legal rights. We ask the British government, the EU and the U.N. to protect us,” he said.

“I ask the British government again to help the Iraqi Christians and grant them the rights of humanitarian asylum in order to preserve what is left of the victims who do not carry a weapon to fight and kill.”

His call came little more than a week after al Qaeda terrorists stormed a Baghdad Cathedral during Sunday Mass and took the congregation hostage. When police tried to enter the building, several of the gunmen detonated suicide vests which exploded and killed 58 people including three priests.

However, Iraqi Catholics are a brave lot and returned to the Cathedral this weekend to light candles in the shape of a cross on the floor of the church to honor those who died. Mass was celebrated in the building even though evidence of the massacre still stained the walls and ceiling.

Many of the parishioners who spoke to CNN said they would not allow terror to prevail, but were still afraid of what would become of them.

“My nerves are frayed. I can’t feel my body. I feel like my blood dried up. My whole body is shaking because what I am seeing is unimaginable,” said Linda Hagob, a congregant.

Elsewhere in the city, Catholics braved potential violence by attending Mass in their churches, but their numbers were less than usual, one parish priest said.

Father Saad Sirop Hanna told CNN that Iraqi politicians were to blame because they have been unable to form a government since the elections that took place in March.

“We blame the government and all the politicians. We consider what happened last Sunday in the church an effect of what they are doing now, and we want all the good people to move and put an end to this situation,” he said.

Hanna also responded to Dawood’s call for Christians to quit Iraq.

“Staying or leaving — we will leave it to the people to decide … I can understand this bishop, this priest, I can understand him. I agree with him from a certain point of view, but I disagree with him from another,” he said, and added, “We are afraid, but not desperate.”

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