In Iraq, the Gospel lives

On Sunday 7 November, Nagam Riyadh, 26, sat in her church with a bandage around her knee, looking at an arrangement of candles. They made the shape of a cross, and inside were 51 sheets of paper, each with the name of a worshipper or priest who died in the attack a week earlier. She sat in the same spot from where she had watched one of the church’s priests die. “We forgive them,” she said. “We’re not afraid. They gave us blood and we give them forgiveness.”

The church is damaged. The sanctuary is riddled with bullet holes. There are blood stains even on the ceiling; bloody palm prints on the walls.

But this did not deter the many worshippers who gathered on 7 November in Our Lady of Salvation Church, Baghdad; worshippers from a number of churches around Baghdad many in tears, most in a spirit of quiet defiance.

In an emotional service interrupted twice by applause, the Rev. Muklis Shisha told the congregation, “The church is a martyr,” adding: “The cross needs blood, and the blood is happiness because Jesus is our happiness. I congratulate our country and ourselves for our martyrs.”

Reading the stories makes me feel ill. I read of the mother who tried to hide her child from the bullets – one of the terrorists pulled the child out and killed him in front of the mother. A four month old baby was told to ‘shut up’ – when a priest said that the mother was trying to calm the baby, they shot the priest, and then the baby. One of those killed had come joyfully to Mass to share the news of her pregnancy, and seek a blessing from the priest who married her a short time ago. A grandmother, shot in the back, was one of the 67 people taken to hospital after the event. “They said, ‘We will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell’,” she said. “We stood beside the wall and they started shooting at the young people. I asked them to kill me and let my grandson live, but they shot him dead.”

We pray for those who have died; for their families; and for those, our brothers and sisters, whose faith brings down on them persecution and the hatred of their neighbours.  We can also let them know that we love them; that we are thinking of them. Maria Teresa Landi writes:

I kept thinking at their suffering, at their mysterious participation in the cross of Christ, and what this means for me and for the history of Iraq, the Middle East and the entire world. I thought to offer my work for them, to do it very seriously as my way to be present to them. And to pray for them, to ask the pastor of my Church to say a Mass for them, that they could be sustained in this difficult time and not feel alone in their struggle. That they could recognize Christ in these challenging circumstances.

Suddenly, I had an idea and this is why I am writing to you.

In addition to praying for them, why don’t we all write letters to them, many, many letters as soon as possible, also from our kids, to tell them that we are with them, that even if we are far away, we are One in Christ, we pray for them, and we thank them for their presence in that precious land and in our lives? We can witness to them the miracles we see in our lives, the path we are following, our certainty in the presence of Christ in any circumstance, so they could be sustained in their faith.

It is a small gesture, like a drop in the ocean, but Christ can use it to make great things, because, as He said, when two or three are gathered in His name, He is in their midst.

By day’s end, the Nuncio at the United Nations was offering his diplomatic pouch (direct mail). He proposed to have all letters and messages sent to him by Tuesday night in a package and he will send the package to the Nunciature in Iraq on Wednesday morning.

Please address your emails to the families to His Beatitude Emmanuel Delli, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad at He will print out the emails and put them in the pouch.

About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
This entry was posted in Catholic Culture, Catholic Eastern Churches, Living Catholic lives and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to In Iraq, the Gospel lives

  1. annem040359 says:

    An article like this reminds us that the term “martyrs” comes to mind, not just during the period of ancient Rome, but even in the high-tech 21st century world.


  2. kathleen says:

    The stories of our beleaguered, persecuted, martyred brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq are so outrageous, so terrible, one wonders why the whole world doesn’t leap up in indignation demanding something be done to put a stop to this!

    But equally astounding are the testimonies of their courage, fortitude and lack of bitterness amidst such tragedy, devastation and horror. What an example of true Christian charity!

    Not long ago I read the classic book “Quo Vadis?” by Henryk Sienkiewicz and the story of the early Christians, a novel based obviously on historic fact. The blood of the martyrs that the Church was founded on has never ceased to flow.
    But like everyone here in relative safety in the West, my heart breaks and tears flow to hear of this unimagineable suffering of these brave Iraqui Christians.

    Yes, I am writing my e-mail to His Beatitude Emmanuel Delli too.


  3. mmvc says:

    I’ve written and invited friends and family to do likewise.

    May Our Lady, Help of Christians, and all the angels, saints and holy souls intercede for persecuted Christians in Iraq and throughout the world. Amen.


  4. Brother Burrito says:

    My email has joined the, I’m sure, massive pile. I notice that this initiative is going ‘viral’ via the internet.


  5. zadjz says:

    The tragic plight of Christians in Iraq is one of the direct results of Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Was there persecution before the Iraq war?


  6. joyfulpapist says:

    It depends how far back you go. To Saddam Hussein who persecuted anyone who wasn’t a member of his party? Discrimination was on a difference basis then, but the Baathist policy was simply to deny that the Assyrians existed – they had to identify as either Kurdish or Arab, and they are neither. To the massive anti-Christian jihad in 1933? To the Ottoman persecutions in the early part of last century, which killed two thirds of those who spoke neo-Aramaic in the middle East? The community has resisted assimilation into the Muslim society surrounding them for 1300 years. This hasn’t been without pain.


  7. piliersdelaterre says:

    Thankyou! The emailing is an wonderful idea. It is well for us to praise their martyrdom, and heroic efforts at forgiveness- but I expect the survivors only want to get out now. Can you blame them? Can they really rely on protection from the Iraqi forces? I am suspicious of any glorification of suffering- isn’t that what has been driving the AlQaeda nutters in the first place? If they then choose to stay, as a visible Christian presence, they need our constant prayers and support- and more international pressure put on the Government to guarantee their safety.


  8. kathleen says:

    Yes piliersdelaterre, who can blame the Iraqi Christians for wanting to leave their own beloved homeland when faced with such a dangerous and uncertain future? Many parents probably feel they owe it to their children to emigrate somewhere safer and less hostile. And what a tragedy that would be if the Christian presence there were to disappear altogether! At the rate it is diminishing, this is a real threat now.

    There are many other countries where Christians also face persecution and death threats, and not just from Al Qaeda “nutters”: Pakistan, India, Sudan, Sri Lanka, to name just a few, suffer constant harassment and attacks. Aid to the Church in Need never tires of drawing this growing terror to the public’s attention, but unless, as you say, firm international pressure is brought down on their Governments (with subsequent threatened boycotts if the terms and guarantees are not upheld) the situation can only get worse as the evil anti-Christian fanatics grow.


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