Forgetting Iraq’s Christians: Their Current Plea for Help

“We want peace, justice, stability, freedom of religion. No more war, no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice…Push the cause of peace.” – Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad 

At the USCCB summer meeting in Atlanta recently, amidst the religious liberty chatter preceding the ‘Fortnight’ we’re now undergoing, a plea from Iraq about the topic became buried under American hubris. The problem Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni recalled before the gathered episcopacy is the near-complete destruction of Iraqi Christian communities as a result of American hubris in its latest manifestation, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Crushing Iraqi resistance in short order via “Shock and Awe,” I now stand shocked (diminishing with each year I grow older) by the initial show of force from false pretense that has led to anything but freedom and in awe of the resolve Iraqi Christians continue to display as their very survival lies on history’s scales. Bishop Warduni told the bishops none of the problems Christians now face – the car bombings and leadership assassinations, the kidnappings of clergy accompanied by torture and ransoms paid out by a church in financial abyss, the inability to worship publicly for fear of inviting violence – none of these existed pre-2003 when Saddam ruled.

Indeed, we can simply state that the US invasion of Iraq, based upon lies the Bush administration employed to gain popular support, has destroyed Iraqi Christians. They now possess no religious liberty as a direct result of the US-manufactured war, which went on without severe condemnations from the US bishops – even as the Vatican, specifically both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and a growing body of clergy, theologians, and lay leadership worldwide questioned the validity, necessity, and wisdom of the war. The American Church failed to speak out against the moral outrage of preemptive war that failed even the loosest Justified War criteria and, in many ways, we have yet to atone for our silence or even complicity in this greatest of sins.

Nine years later, an exodus of Chaldean Catholic refugees decimates the Christian population more and more and violence persists against those who remain. Now, Bishop Warduni on behalf of Iraqi Christians calls on American Catholics for our aid:

“As leaders of the church in the United States…you bear a special responsibility toward the people and Christians of Iraq. In 2003, your government led the war that brought some terrible consequences. The US government can and must do all it can to encourage tolerance and respect in Iraq…We beg you to do something for us.”

As leaders, like Cardinal Dolan, speak in the language of taking up arms to defend our religious liberty domestically perhaps we need to listen instead to Bishop Warduni, the courageous shepherd of a local church suffering true persecution.

We, as American Catholics, must stop diminishing those Christians suffering existential struggles by elevating our relatively trivial/non-existent concerns.

We must, once again as I seek to stress in these early posts, admit to our failings in defending religious liberty worldwide for all peoples – the suffering of Iraqi Christians being a prime example.

Ultimately, we must reach out to Bishop Warduni’s people with hands of solidarity in a stirred-up response to their anguished cries and seek to give the peace, justice, stability, and freedom so earnestly sought and suffered for.

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