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Church leaders in Iraq call for day of prayer in face of ‘ethnic cleansing’

Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in Mosul sleeps inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif (CNS)

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has urged Catholics to answer a call from Church leaders in Iraq to take part in a universal day of prayer on Wednesday, the same day as the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chairman of International Affairs at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, asked the faithful to pray “for an end to the violent persecution that threatens to extinguish the ancient Iraqi Christian community”.

“The Feast of the Transfiguration is one of the major feasts in the Chaldean Catholic Church calendar. Events in Iraq over the past few weeks have been disastrous. Christians have been systematically driven out of Mosul,” he said.

“A community of 60,000 before 2003 has dwindled over the years and is now down to almost nothing. For the first time in 1,600 years, no Masses are being celebrated in Mosul. Many Christians have fled to the surrounding Nineveh Plains and into Kurdistan as militants from the Islamic State [formerly ISIS] threaten those who do not subscribe to their fundamentalist ideology.

“We are witnessing today an act of religious and ethnic cleansing toward Christians as well as many other communities such as Sufis, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Yezidis, Turkmen, let alone Shi’ites and Sunnis, as extremists drive people out of the lands that have been their home for thousands of years; some churches have been converted into mosques, ancient monasteries lie abandoned and the homes of Christians have been daubed with signs that would mark them out as a target for the extremists.”

Bishop Lang called on the British Government to prioritise action to save the Christian and other persecuted communities of Iraq and to offer them the help and support. He also called on Catholics to support charities currently helping Iraqi Christians.

“I invite you to support Aid to the Church in Need as well as all other Catholic charities offering emergency and pastoral support to Iraqis at a time of great crisis,” he said

“Most important of all, I appeal for your prayers so that God may show the people of Iraq his infinite mercy – comfort the mourners, bind up their wounds and heal the broken-hearted in those biblical lands that have been a cradle of civilisation.”

In addition to this global day of prayer on Wednesday, the Bishops’ Conference has also designated Sunday, August 10, as a day of prayer for Iraq.

The calls for prayer comes after Islamic State fighters were reported to have captured more towns in the north-west of Iraq over the weekend.

Following prolonged fighting between Islamic State and Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers), the Islamist militants took control of Sinjar, Zummar and Ayn Zalah.

Reports received by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, suggest that the Islamic State’s capture of the region has caused thousands of Yezidi families to flee. The region is a mixture of Arab Sunnis and Yezidis.

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana told ACN: “It is widely believed that the Islamic State is trying to control the region because of the oil fields in Ain Zalah, and as it is the geographical continuity of their claimed Islamic State towards Syria. In addition, they may try to control the Dam of Mosul which is in that region.”


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