At the conclusion of the recent Synod on the Middle East, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted the "challenges" to the churches of the region, from communion essential for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue to the urgent 'need for "religious freedom" and continued dialogue with Islam.
Reflecting on the synod the Holy Father stated emphatically that: “Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the precondition for a life worthy of human beings and society.” Benedict XVI addressed this hope, warning and invitation to the people and the States of the Middle East as well as the international community.
Tragically the Holy Father’s prophetic words were ignored on October 31 as radical Muslim extremists bombed the Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad killing 58 innocent worshipers and injuring another 75. It was during the recent Synod on the Middle East that the bishops of Iraq spoke of the perilous situation facing Christians and other religious minorities in the country. Kidnappings, bombings of Christian churches and schools, attacks upon Christian homes and businesses have become routine in Iraq. Iraqi Christians continue to flee in fear or have been forced to leave their own country in order to find safety and security. The breakdown of security and the increased level of violence against Christians are appalling and frightening.
The Obama Administration bears the responsibility to work with the Iraqi government in trying to stem and stop this escalation of violence. As Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka of the Syrian Catholic Church in Iraq whose cathedral was the site of the October 31 bombing stated at the recent Synod: “The invasion of Iraq by America and its allies brought to Iraq in general, and especially to its Christians, destruction and ruin on all levels. Seven years have passed and Christianity is still bleeding. Where is the world conscience? All the world remains a spectator before what is happening in Iraq, especially with regards to Christians.”
These strong words from the chief shepherd of Iraqi Christians should be a clarion call to the United States government to act quickly and decisively in stemming the violence in Iraq. The murderous attack upon innocent Christians gathered for worship clearly demonstrate the drastic need for the Obama Administration to intensify its efforts to assist Iraq and protect the minority Christian population from further attacks and intimidation. We join the call of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to begin to effectively address this deteriorating situation for Iraqi Christians. We stand in solidarity with the bishops, church and people of Iraq in their critical quest for greater security and protection. The time has come to stop the bleeding of Christianity in Iraq.