Chaldean Catholics in the US have called on President Obama to do more to prevent the “genocide” of Christians in Iraq.
Shouting slogans such as “Obama, Obama, where are you? Iraqi Christians need you!” and “Stop the violence in Iraq!” a group of about 150 protesters, most of who were Chaldeans (Christians of Iraqi descent), marched through the streets of downtown Detroit on Friday to raise awareness about the violent persecution of Christians in their native land at the hands of Islamic State militants.
Later in the day, nearly 1,000 more gathered at Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield for a prayer vigil led by Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat, who shared a similar message.
Noor Mattr, one of the protesters who helped coordinate the rally, said: “Christians are being kicked away from their country, and no one is protecting them Christians do not take up arms like other groups, so they take action with their feet and just leave.”
Mattr said his grandmother lived in Mosul, Iraq, where Christians have recently been forced to flee their homes after the militant Islamic State, formerly ISIS, has given an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a huge tax or be killed.
The Islamic State proclaimed the creation of a new “caliphate,” or state run by a religious leader, after thousands of militants seized control of large parts of eastern Syria and northern and central Iraq in June.
Since then, militants have released videos on Facebook and other social media showing mass executions of Christians and other Iraqis. According to some estimates, as many as 1,500 people were killed in July.
Ashor Khairon, another protester in Detroit, called the situation “genocide” and expressed frustration at the lack of action on the part of the US and international community.
“We’re praying, but the prayers aren’t enough,” Khairon told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese. “We need support from all over the world, especially the USA. I’m sure they can do it. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.”
Many of the protesters carried signs or wore shirts depicting the Arabic letter that is painted by militants on the houses of Christians to mean “Nassara,” or “Nazarene”, to identify those targeted for persecution. The symbol also has taken off on social media as a sign of solidarity with those who are being martyred.
Janelle Rabban, a first-generation US-born Chaldean Catholic who attended the rally, said it was “heart-wrenching” to listen to the stories of her homeland.
“People have to carry their kids on their back to walk 40 miles in 115 degree weather just to live. The elderly are staying home because they can’t make it, and ISIS is saying, ‘Either you convert or you die,’ and I’ve heard that some of them have,” Rabban said.
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