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Utterly Abandoned (Updated)

From Vatican Radio:

The last Christian families still present in Mosul are leaving the city and are heading towards Iraqi Kurdistan.

The exodus was caused by the proclamation on Thursday by the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate that Christians must pay a special tax or be killed.  Islamists have for the past two days been marking the doors of homes belonging to Christians and Shia Muslims living in the city.

And from the New York Times:

As the Christians leave Mosul, ISIS has painted the Arabic letter that means “Nasrani,” from Nazrene, a word often used to refer to Christians, on their homes. Next to the letter, in black, are the words: “Property of the Islamic State of Iraq.”

The militants have also told Muslims who rent property from Christians that they no longer need to pay rent, said a businessman who rents from a Christian. The landlord now lives in Lebanon.

Many Christians interviewed expressed a sense of utter abandonment and desolation as well as a recognition that the sound of church bells mingled with the Muslim calls to prayer, the ultimate symbol of Mosul’s tolerance, would likely never be heard again.


After the "Angelus" today, Pope Francis addressed the Christian communities of Mosul:

Carissimi fratelli e sorelle tanto perseguitati, io so quanto soffrite, io so che siete spogliati di tutto. Sono con voi nella fede in Colui che ha vinto il male! E a voi, qui in piazza e a quanti ci seguono per mezzo della televisione, rivolgo l’invito a ricordare nella preghiera queste comunità cristiane.

Dearest brothers and sisters, so persecuted, I know how much you are suffering; I know you are stripped of everything. I am with you in faith in Him who has conquered evil! And to you present in this Piazza and to those who follow by means of television, I invite your prayers for these Christian communities.

Update-2 (from L'Osservatore Romano):

On Sunday afternoon, the jihadist militants seized the ancient monastery of Mar Behnam, located 10 minutes from the city of Qaraqosh, which is mostly Christian. Until Saturday the monastery was managed by Syro-Catholic monks. “The international community”, said Fr Nizar Semaan, a colleague of Archbishop Yohanna Petros Moshe of Mossul for Syrians, “is disturbingly passive in the face of what is happening. Concrete measures are necessary on the humanitarian and political level”.

In an open letter addressed to “all men of good will and to those who are concerned about the nation of Iraq”, the Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako i of Babylon for Chaldeans recalls that recent acts of violence are contrary to the Quran and damage the great common history of commitment of all Iraqis for the country.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Thank you, Father Imbelli for highlighting the plight of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I urge everyone to pray for these people who suffer because they choose to belive in Christ. 

Yes, this is incredibly sad. Perhaps it explains why Christians in Syria feel compelled to back Bashar al-Assad, choosing a tyrant who tolerates them over one who doesn't. 

I don't know what the ramifications of U.S. support for the Kurdish region of Iraq might be. If Christians are welcomed--or even tolerated--there as refugees, perhaps we should consider humanitarian assistance. 

As we pray for the Iraqi Christians, perhaps we should pray that American's political influence on the regions be informed by more than just militarism and partisanship.

These are terrible stories, and similar ones have come from other parts of the Middle East where ISIS is simply not much of a factor. What to do about them I don't know.  We Americans have to realize that there are problems, and important ones, that will not respond to the sending of yet another aircraft carrier or yet more drone strikes.

I have no idea whether the Kurds are likely to be more tolerant of Christians than others have been; but if they are, we should certainly do what we can to help.

One way to help, although it is the long, slow way, is for a persecuted group to remember tolerance when it is in the ascendant.

Agree with Jean that we should consider humanitarian assistance. Both governmental and private. Does anyone know of relief agencies which are trying to help in resettlement efforts?  It sounds as if there is no way right now for them to stay in their homes. It is heartbreaking that after all the lives lost in the war in Iraq, that it has come to this.

This is exactly how the crusades started in the middle ages. The governments of the time were unable to guarantee safe passage. The pope had to hire mercenaries to ensure people were free to worship. It turned into a greater war, pressing them back.

This problem did not suddenly appear out of thin air. It began to occur right after the Iraq invasion. Bush and Obama have both had personal pleas by the pope about the entire issue of religious freedom.

These people are thugs. Secularization is the answer. Clear division between church/synagogue/mosque and state. No state can function with whole scale genocide occurring within its borders. And this, clearly, is systematic genocide.

Say what you will about Sadaam, he ensured religious freedom in Iraq and you simply did not see this kind of internal chaos and violence.

These persecuted Christians need both humanitarian aid and intense prayer support. We need to pray foremost for their protection and ask the Lord to soften the hearts of those who are persecuting them.  Do not underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. 

We should also extend an offer of asylum to them to live here in the US.   

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This is a story of an outrage foretold. Anybody who has been paying attention to the Vatican (not easy to do if all you are waiting for is change on women priests) has been hearing the warnings, hand-wringings and calls for prayer for years, and not only about Iraq but about Syria and Israel and Palestine (if that last "and" is permitted). We had a visitor in our church ... when? Maybe four or five years ago now, talking about the shrinking Christian population of Bethlehem. It's just a little town. The hosts had to scramble to find Christians to welcome Pope Francis on his trip to Israel: "Wasn't there one living over in Jericho? Oh, no they all went to New York." Some of the best reporting on the issue has been done by St. Anthony Messenger, although America hasn't been slouchy. Not that either is getting much competition from the big media.

Saddam was better for Christians than the guy our leaders thought was our puppet, and Assad has been likewise. Dick & Condi & Rummy & Paul assured us it wouldn't be like this when they decided to shake it up.

This morning Abu Saad, an Iraqi businessman, told Leila Fadel of NPR, "Everything is wrong in Iraq because of America. ... Because America, they bring us a fake government." Now the Iraqis (but not the Kurds) would like us to come back and try again because they can't fix what we messed up. "Pottery Barn rules," Colin Powell said, "You break it, you own it." Oh, yeah. Check that out.

Ah!  Islam, the religion of peace...

Terrible. I feel badly on every Sunday on which at Mass the prayer of the faithful does not mention Christians in the Middle East, and always add a private prayer intention for them.

"Say what you will about Sadaam, he ensured religious freedom in Iraq and you simply did not see this kind of internal chaos and violence."  

I do so hope that remark is satire. Among Sadaam's near endless efforts at supporting religious freedom was having an image of himself in the robes of a mullah painted on a huge mural for all to worship.

You are certainly correct in suggesting the imperfect but most reasonable solution involves a real world commitment to separation of church and state.  I believe most if not all of history's most brutal tyrants have used words stating their commitment to divine rule based on their worship of God

Tragically, individuals are brutalized daily by thugs willing to use any means to gain and/or maintain power over others. What I cannot grasp are the notions allowing us to convince ourselves we better the problem by empowering our group over theirs.  It is so obvious if feels arrogant to state no religion of a merciful God empowers shunning.  If the respone my remarks are we Christians merely wish to be allowed to worship our way, well, that is in point of fact the battle cry of every sect.

Certainly, this is a terrible crime of persecution and intolerance. Yet we have to learn also how to be concerned about the Samaritans (non Christians) are suffering and be just as concerned. Who is my nieghbor? In india, that place that keeps sending us priests, soldiers are given immunity for raping and killing women. Send the Indian priests back there to work agianst this injustice.

I do so hope that remark is satire.

No. It is an empirical, observable fact.

In modern times, under Saddam, Christians were treated much the same as Muslims; Saddam's right hand man, Tariq Aziz, was Christian, Pelley said.

"Before the war," said Pelley,"it's estimated there were about a million Christians in Iraq. They were a small minority, but free to worship, free to build churches, and free to speak the ancient language of Jesus, Aramaic. But, after the invasion, Muslim militants launched a war on each other and the cross."

The Dominican sisters had established and expanded schools and hospitals in Mosul. Now their presence is negligible.

A former colleague, a Jewish biblical scholar, spoke of the Prophet Ezekiel as a "theologian of catastrophe." The catastrophe, of course, was the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian Exile.

I think the Christians of Iraq and Syria are experiencing a barely imaginable catastrophe. And though concern and prayer are, of course, needed, I wonder if much more dramatic action is demanded -- one commensurate with the catastrophe.

We rightly celebrate the courage and faith of St. Francis who traveled to the Sultan. Could we imagine that the Pope who took Francis' name (and displays some of Francis' freedom) might imitate his deed?

Father Imbelli,

Your suggestion of Pope Francis intervening in a direct way is excellent. Perhaps he could even travel to Mosul to dialogue with the members of ISIS.  You are right to say that this situation is a catastrophe of immense proportions.  And it is not limited to Syria and Iraq.  The persecution of Christians is going on from Nigeria to Indonesia and involves murder, rape, kidnapping and forced conversions.  These people are utterly alone.  



What is happening to Christians today in ISIS-controlled territory is certainly appalling, but it is neither unexampled nor unexpected. It is what normally happens when religious fanatics seize power anywhere. Examples abound from around the world and through the centuries. No religion that claims unique possession of divine truth is ever free of the temptation to persecute non-adherents, because consciousness of God's special favor, which should make people humble, more often makes them horrible. The only effective restraint on religious malevolence has been the secular values of doubt and tolerance which took a tenuous hold in Western society exhausted by centuries of bloody conflict. And those values are still under attack and need constant defending.

It is, of course, small consolation to the Christians forced from their homes in Mosul and elsewhere that the dead-certain jihadists treat their co-religionists even worse. But those dying by the hundreds in car-bomb attacks also deserve our pity. So too will the persecutors when the tide turns.


This has been the Jewish experience through much of history.

If anyone wants to go to Iraq on a pilgrimage:

A couple of years ago their trips to Iraq used to include meetings with the local Christian community, but that seems to be gone from the schedule, because, I would guess, the local Christians are now gone...

John and Crystal, thank you for your comments.

A tragedy that was made possible in part by Bush's invasion of Iraq and by Obama's support for the Syrian rebels, with whom ISIS is allied.

The Chaldean Patriarch said recently that no dialogue is possible with Islamists.  He is absolutely right.  I hope the Holy See is listening:,-Christians-flee-Mosul-31662.html

Bob S:  ask the LGBT communities in Uganda and Nigeria how "peaceful" the Christians are there.

Crowing often ends up by eating crow.

Thorin:  are you equating "Islamists" with Islam in general?  If so, is it OK to extrapolate from the actions of  Orthodox and Fundamentalist Christians in certain areas/countries to a general description of Christianity?

Mr. McCrea,

I often disagree with Rorate Caeli, but I think their analysis of this situation is spot on:

That blog, by the way, has done an excellent job of drawing attention to the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq.


Sme Koran stuff you'll find interesting:

5:51: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allâh guides not those people who are the wrong­doers.”

9:34: “O you who believe! Verily, there are many of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks who devour the wealth of mankind in falsehood, and hinder men from the Way of Allâh. And those who hoard up gold and silver, and spend it not in the Way of Allâh -- announce unto them a painful torment.”

Quran, 9:29: “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allâh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allâh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”.

3:56: “As to those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe torment in this world and in the Hereafter, and they will have no helpers."

I am very far from an expert on Islam; certainly there are expressions of it that are problematic to those considered non-believers.  Is that a bug or a feature?  I don't know.  I do know, however, that is risky to proof-text scriptures.  Anyone's scriptures.  In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 149 comes up quite frequently.  "Let the praise of God be on their lips, and a two edged sword in their hand, to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples, to bind their kings in chains and their nobles in fetters of iron; to carry out sentence pre-ordained; this honor is for all his faithful."  That is far from an isolated instance, there are very many similar quotes from the OT that one could come up with.  There are many ways to pray those passages when they come up in the Liturgy of the Hours, such as the sword being a metaphor for cutting sin out of our lives.  But the fact remains that when they were written they were meant exactly as they appear.


I think here in the US, that all of our different religious leaders, Christians, Jews, Muslims, need to get behind this tragedy. At least for Catholics, if our Bishops said this was a really important issue and put together an advocacy strategy they way they do around abortion and other things they care about, I think a lot of Catholics would rally around them.

Bob Schwartz, Muslims have sacred texts that challenge them. Christians have sacred texts that challenge us. What about...

Matt. 26:52 -- Put your sword back into its sheath for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Matt. 5:43-44 -- You have heard it said, 'You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...

The Muslims have their problem, but those texts are our problem. What are we to do?

Proof-texting is always dangerous unless the context and history of the texts are taken into account.

Bob S:  I notice that you completely avoided what I had to say about "peaceful" Christians in Uganda and Nigeria.  Those who "benefit" from their kind of peace might desire something a little less peaceful.

I do hope that Christianity in general is not judged by the actions of Fundamentalist Christians anywhere and the Orthodox in Russia.

Sorry, I must have missed something, but what is the question to which secularizaioin is the answer? Surely not the question of state violence against its own people. Or non-state violence, for the matter.


The question is what to do about people who believe that they are in sole possession of God's truth and that it commands them to persecute those who do not believe as they do. And the suggested answer is an infusion of doubt about such certainty and an openness to tolerate other people's beliefs and customs, if for no better reason than because history is fickle and may one day soon put the despised and persecuted group on top.

In my earlier post, I referred to doubt and tolerance as secular values, because they have usually appeared in that guise, mitigating the worst effects of religious extremism. But they could be and should be and occasionally are religious values as well.

Other questions will call for other answers, although a healthy doubt about one's own righteousness is likely to be a part of anything useful while we remain human.

Here's a suggestion of a course of action to consider:

It's a theocracy thing.  It's hard to have a pluralistic society under a theocracy.  John Courtney Murray SJ wrote about this stuff  ....

John Prior,

It's both logically and psychologically possible to have tolerant and charitable attitudes without having doubts about the truths in which one believes. It's in fact more likely that people persecute those who disagree with them precisely when they themselves have internal doubts and therefore cannot tolerate the threatening presence of opposed alternatives. There was a study recently that showed those who argue the hardest for their religious beliefs are the ones who are the most unsure of them.

I'm not opposed to secular policies which distance themselves from truth claims, But I think you may be over-valuing doubt as useful to tolerance. There's a dark side to this. Doubt may not result in agression, but then again it might. Feeling secure and feeling defensive are two different things.

I leave aside the case of believing that one is "commanded to persecute" which you raise. If one could recommend doubt for just those beliefs which entail the duty to persecute others, that would change the situation, by distinguishing among various beliefs worthy of doubt.

On the other hand, suppose one believes that charity toward one's neighbor is an absolute command. Is one likely to become more tolerant or contribute more to the common good by injecting a measure of doubt into that belief? 

Evangelii Gaudium states:

Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence (253).

Since it appeared, the "disconcerting episodes" have only multiplied. If the document is correct regarding "authentic Islam" and "the proper reading of the Koran," I would think it a priority for the Vatican to marshal the support of Muslim leaders in affirming this and denouncing the violence being perpetrated upon Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Cardinal Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sent greetings to  "Muslim brothers and sisters"  to mark the conclusion of Ramadan. The title given the letter was "Toward a Genuine Fraternity between Christians and Muslims." Might not Pope Francis, in the light of the horrors befalling Christians in Iraq and Syria, dispatch the Cardinal to various centers of the Muslim world to decry the persecution that belies "fraternity."

I repeat what I said above: prayer is essential, but courageous action is also required. Father Nizar's perception of a disturbing passivity in the face of the catastrophe seems only too valid.

Rita Ferrone,

I pretty much agree with what you wrote, but I think you cover a wider range of belief and action than I had in mind. I have no wish to cast doubt upon sincere religious beliefs that prompt benevolent and charitable works. However, this thread is not concerned with good works, but with harsh actions taken against a group of people because, or allegedly because, they do not profess the same faith as those who wield power. When tempted to embark on that sort of religious activity, which to my mind makes a mockery of faith, a disposition to question ourselves and to recall how often we have been mistaken in smaller matters may save us from graver errors.

I wrote "allegedly" just now, because I am not sure that religious belief is the sole motivation in these cases, even when that is claimed. Politics and economics play a part, and leaders wish to reward their followers with the outcasts' abandoned property. But it sounds better if it can be represented as the will of God.

I suppose we will never know whether Caliph Ibrahim is quashing his doubts and shoring up his faltering faith with these drastic actions or is acting in most holy earnest. But if he is concerned with "the threatening presence of opposed alternatives," as well he might be, he's probably not thinking about the demoralized Christian community.

Finally, Rita, the answer to the question in your last paragraph is "no." And the answer to my very different question—Does an undoubted belief that charity to neighbors is commanded by God justify forcing others, if I have the power, to do as I do?—is also, I believe, "no."


When Christians act as they do in Uganda and Nigeria, we are stunned because we recognise that those acts are directly contrary to Christian teaching; when Muslims do those things, we are not surprised because the Koran and Hadith pretty much approve of those things.  This is not rocket science.  By the way, here is a quote from sura 4.34 concerning wives:

"As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them forsake them in beds apart, and beat them." [italics added by me]

Nice, huh?


Bob, by lumping all Moslems together with the fanatics who have driven Christians away from Mosul, you are dividing the world into "us" and "them", where you indistinctly put all Moslems among "them". That's a huge group of ennemies. If instead we draw a division within Islam, separating the fanatics from the mainstream, we could circumscribe the ennemies to a small group and might be able to convince mainstream Moslems to condemn them as well, and rally those mainstream Moslems to the cause of tolerance. Or do you prefer to think that one and a half billion people are intolerant, sexist and cruel, and need to be converted away from Islam, or maybe given a choice between converting to Christianity and being killed - would that be an appropriate response?


Claire:  Your question,

Or do you prefer to think that one and a half billion people are intolerant, sexist and cruel, and need to be converted away from Islam, or maybe given a choice between converting to Christianity and being killed - would that be an appropriate response?

seems to assume something, namely that there exist moderate, not to say well-behaved, Muslims.  That is, Muslims well educated in their religion that nonetheless reject certain explicit Koranic teachings about Jews, Christians, and spousal relations.  The problem I see with such a view is that, for Muslims there is no Catechism, no Holy Father, no central human agency to authoritativally define a canon of beliefs, other than the Koran and hadith.  So in order to reject some very central statements by The Prophet, they would have to essentially become apostates.  My view ie that moderate Muslims are simply those who are "cultural" Muslims, Muslims by habit, not really thinking deeply about the Koran.  Sort of like cultural Catholics who practice artificial birth control, abortion, serial monogamy, etc.

Your question, however is a good one, one that needs to be explored in depth as to the issues I mentioned above.  God Bless you.

John, thank you for your thoughtful response @ 3:06, above.

Bob Schwartz,

Fortunately we don't have to guess about the existence of moderate Muslims around the world in great numbers, or their views. There is a body of scientific data that supports the claim that most Muslims do not condone violence, and they do reject attacks on civilians, admire the West and so on. A multi-year Gallup research study, assembling tens of thousands of hours of face-to-face hour-long interviews with residents of 35 nations, using random sampling, shows that the conflict between Muslim and Western communities is far from inevitable. The book, Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, is based on that data. (John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup Press, 2007). 

It's a good read, and I recommend it. John Esposito is a professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Mogahed was the lead researcher for the Gallup study.


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