Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The West Struggles to See Threat to Eastern Church

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The West Struggles to See Threat to Eastern Church

Article excerpt

At first glance, there was a bizarre gap in the proclamation Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued as his forces rolled to victory after victory in their rush to rebuild a caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

The modern world, he said, in a July 1 statement circulated on Twitter, has "been divided into two camps and two trenches, with no third camp present: The camp of Islam and faith, and the camp of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy - the camp of the Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere, and the camp of the Jews, the crusaders, their allies and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia, and being mobilized by the Jews."

Missing from this list were key groups immediately impacted by the rise of the Islamic State - the region's ancient churches. In one stunning blow, ISIS forces seized Mosul and other Nineveh Plain communities that have sheltered Christians since soon after the faith's birth. Jihadi militiamen burned churches, or turned them into mosques, and marked Christian homes with "n" for "Nisrani" or "Nazarene."

Thus, believers with 2,000 years worth of local roots were declared foreigners - Nazarenes. They were ordered to convert to Islam, to flee as refugees or face execution, perhaps by crucifixion. Mr. Baghdadi called them "crusaders," with other Western infidels.

The exiled leader of Mosul's Chaldean Catholics has warned believers in foreign lands not to feel secure.

"Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer," said Archbishop Amel Nona, in an interview with Corriere della Sera in Italy. "I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive."

The tragedies in Iraq and Syria - affecting Christians and other religious minorities, such as members of the Yazidi sect - have inspired fervent pleas for help from religious leaders around the world, including Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Nevertheless, it has taken time for Western leaders to be shaken into the realization that- after decades of rising persecution - the futures of the Middle Eastern churches are literally hanging in the balance. …

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