Many of Iraq’s Christians celebrated their first Easter since returning to their homes. With the help of local churches and other organisations, people in the country’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), have restored their homes and are now attempting to recover the lives they lost when the Islamic State group took over the city nearly four years ago.
The pastor of the Mar Behnam and Sarah Church, located in the centre of Qaraqosh, talks about how the city, which was deserted following IS’s onslaught, is starting to recover.
By Dan Wooding (Assist News) The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.
Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.
The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.
Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”
“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”
Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]
Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”
The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”
The Middle East was a major focus for the report.
“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.
Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.
ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.
A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
The Prince of Wales has described his profoundly shocked at the suffering endured by Catholics in Syria.
Addressing the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in London, along with their hosts from the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas in Pimlico, and friends from other churches, he said it was “a particular privilege” to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.
“As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith,” he said.
“As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.”
Before the war, Syria’s Christians numbered around two million. It is estimated that a disproportionately high number of Christians – more than 700,000 – have left over the course of the six-year conflict. In Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which until 2011 was home to the country’s largest Christian community, numbers dropped from 150,000 to barely 35,000 by spring 2017, representing a fall of more than 75 percent.
Resulting from this crisis, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, led by Archbishop Issam John Darwish, has helped provide food, housing and other essentials such as clothes and medicine for 800 refugee families, more than 6,000 people in total, who have fled Syria.
Earlier this year Prince Charles met Archbishop Darwish, the Melkite Archbishop of Zahle, Furzol and Bekka, who travelled to London to be at today’s service at St Barnabas. Prince Charles said he was “profoundly shocked” to hear from him about just how much the Melkite community in Syria has suffered and endured.
He said: “It does seem to me that in our troubled times, when so many Christians in the Middle East face such desperate trials, there is at least some potential comfort to be found in remembering our connections to the earliest days of the Church.” Read More
Mohabat News In an interview with Radio Farda, Article 18 spokesman, Kiarash A’lipour confirmed the news, adding, “Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were all arrested by security forces on Tuesday, December 12, in Karaj”.
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Meanwhile, a website that exclusively reflects the news concerning Iranians converted to Christianity, Mohabat News reported, “The security forces raided six houses in Karaj where the converts used as a home church”.
While a Christian ceremony was held, the security forced stormed into the houses, detained four and dragged them away, Mohabat News reported.
Furthermore, the security forces raided two shops belonging to two of the detainees, confiscated shoes and purses and sealed off one of the shops.
The shops were sealed off for “overcharging”, “profiteering” and “breaking guild regulations”. Moreover, a Bible and a laptop (notebook) computer were also confiscated during the security operations.
One of the shops, located in Fardiss neighborhood in Karaj is owned by one of the detainees, Milad Goudarzi.
On Tuesday, the government’s official news agency, IRNA reported that “Elements of a devious Christian cult who were promoting it and attempting to disrupt the market and economic order have been arrested”.
IRNA did not elaborate what it meant by “disrupting market and economic order.
One of the detainees, Amin Khaki was earlier detained along six of his fellow Christians in 2013 and recently freed after serving his term in a prison in Ahvaz, capital of Khouzestan province, southwestern Iran.
Many Muslims who converted to Christianity have been arrested in recent years, days before Christmas.
Last year, in a joint statement, 19 human rights organizations called on the international community to press Iran to end the persecution of newly converted Iranian Christians.
According to Christian and human rights organizations, “In less than two months, since June 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran.”
On July 6, Ahmadzadeh sentenced four Protestant Christian converts to 10 years in prison each in a trial completely lacking due process, according to Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of Article 18, a London-based organization that defends Christians in Iran.
“Charges against these Christians is legally unfounded, and their conviction to 10 years’ imprisonment is violating the obvious right of freedom of opinion,” Borji told Radio Farda. “So many Christians in Iran are accused of merely attending Mass and prayer gatherings even in the privacy of their homes. They are all waiting for the Revolutionary Courts’ verdict against them.”
There are no recent official statistics available on the number of Christians in Iran, but 117,704 were counted in a 2011 state census, CHRI maintained. Those who said were Christians in an official census mostly belong to recognized and tolerated traditional ethnic churches, such as Armenian churches.
But evangelical or other new Christian movements, which are spreading covertly among Muslims, are treated harshly by the Islamic Republic.
In 2010, the World Christian Database (WCD) recorded 270,057 Christians in Iran. Some Christian organizations argue the number is much higher.
At least five church leaders have been murdered and hundreds more have been either interrogated or incarcerated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Publishing the Persian version of the Bible in Iran is forbidden, while several churches have been forced to shut down.
Qaraqosh (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday 10 December hundreds of Iraqi Christians were able to take part in the celebrations for the feast of Mar Behnam (San Behnam) at the Shrine-Monastery where the relics of the Saint are kept. The Mar Behnam Monastery, a few kilometers from the city of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plain, is being rebuilt after the massive devastation carried out by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (Daesh). The project to rebuild the important place of worship is supported in particular by the French association Fraternité en Irak. The large participation of the faithful in Eucharistic liturgies, celebrated outdoors, was an important sign of the will of the Iraqi Christians to return to live their daily life, marked by the feasts and celebrations of the liturgical year, in the places of its traditional roots.
The jihadist militiamen of the self-proclaimed “Islamic Caliphate” already in July 2014 had driven out the three Syriac Catholic monks who had officiated the monastery until the day before. Even some families residing at the monastery had been expelled. Since then, concerns have been expressed about the fate of the heritage kept in the ancient monastery, dating back to the fourth century and dedicated to the Assyrian martyr prince Behnam and his sister Sarah, which is one of the oldest and most venerated places of worship of Syriac Christianity. After a few months from the beginning of the jihadist occupation, as early as 2014 (see Fides 15/10/2017) the militiamen of Daesh had removed all the crosses and burned ancient manuscripts kept in the monastery. Then, in 2015, they had largely devastated it with explosives, and had not spared the Saint’s grave.
Last July (see Fides 17/7/2017), the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) had arrested some members of the so-called “Babylon Brigades” on suspicion of looting private houses and churches Christians, including the Mar Behnam monastery.
The Nineveh Plain Protection Units represent a local military organization, formed in part by native Christians and established in 2014 as a territorial self-defense militia.
The so-called “Babylon Brigades”, headed by Ryan al Kildani (Rayan the Chaldean), also claim their militia label composed by Christians, even if their connection with Shiite militias such as the People’s Protection Units is documented (Hashd al Shaabi) who also operate in the area. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/12/2017)
Saints Behnam, Sarah, and the Forty Martyrs
…were 4th-century Christians who suffered martyrdom during the reign of Shapur II. They are venerated as saints in the Oriental Orthodox Church and their feast day is 10 December.
Behnam and Sarah were born in the 4th-century in Adiabene, and were the children of Sinharib, an Assyrian king. Whilst hunting on Mount Alfafwith forty slaves, Behnam became separated from his entourage and was forced to spend the night on the mountain. He received a dream in which an angel instructed him to seek Saint Matthew, who lived on the mountain, as the saint could heal his sister Sarah, who was afflicted with leprosy. Behnam met with his entourage the next day, and they discovered Saint Matthew in a cave and requested he join them on their return to the city, to which he agreed.
Behnam and his entourage returned to the city ahead of Saint Matthew and told his mother of his dream and the saint. His mother allowed Behnam and Sarah to return to the saint in secret, and he healed Sarah of her leprosy, after which Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves were baptised and Saint Matthew returned to Mount Alfaf. Sinharib discovered Behnam and Sarah’s conversion and demanded they abandon Christianity. Stalwart in their faith, Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves, fled to Mount Alfaf, but were slain by soldiers sent by Sinharib.
Following his children’s death, Sinharib was afflicted with madness. Behnam spoke to his mother in a dream and instructed her to seek Saint Matthew, as he could heal the king. The queen took the king to the place of Behnam and Sarah’s death, where he met with Saint Matthew and was cured. Sinharib and his wife returned to Assur with the saint and were baptised. The king had a monument to the martyrs built at the place of their martyrdom, and, at the request of Saint Matthew, constructed a monastery on Mount Alfaf, which later became known as the Monastery of St. Matthew. Sinharib had the martyrs buried at the monastery atop Mount Alfaf. In the 6th century, a Persian merchant constructed a shrine to the martyrs alongside Sinharib’s monument, and would later develop into the Monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah. Source: Wikipedia