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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He will print out the emails and put them in the pouch.