Photo Credit: St George's Church, Baghdad
By ACNS staff
In the wake of the growing crisis in Iraq, a plea for prayer and help has been issued by the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf and the Anglican vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad.
An estimated half a million people, including hundreds of Christian families, are fleeing the area with many attempting to find refuge in the nearby Kurdish provinces of Northern Iraq. At least one Assyrian church in Mosul has been burned down in the recent violence.
A statement from the diocese said that Christians are feeling particularly vulnerable, "especially in light of the treatment of Christians in the Raqqah province of northern Syria where ISIS* has also established its authority.
"Recall that, in February 2014, ISIS commanders in Raqqah forced Christian community leaders to sign a contract agreeing to a set of stringent conditions. These included the payment of a special tax (known as jizya), conduct of Christian rites only behind closed doors so as to be neither visible nor audible to Muslims, and adherence to Islamic commercial, dress code and dietary regulations.
"Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh plain is the traditional heartland of Iraq’s Christian communities. Many Christians fled to this region when forced to leave Baghdad and other areas in recent years. Christians are alarmed at the ISIS take-over of Mosul, fearful that this will further accelerate the decline of the Christian presence in Iraq."
The statement said Christians in the country have asked for prayer for the following issues:
- The Christians of Mosul will know the close presence of Jesus, the guidance of the Spirit and the protection of the Father
- Those who have chosen to remain in the city would not be subjected to violent or unjust treatment
- Humanitarian assistance would reach all who are in need, whether having been displaced or remaining in Mosul
- Christians throughout Iraq will know the peace and presence of Jesus each day, and will remain faithful to him and clear in their testimony
- The Iraqi authorities will act decisively to improve security for all citizens of Iraq.
Anglican vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, also issued an appeal entitled "Please, please help us in this crisis". Canon White who has lost hundreds of his congregation to the violence over the years, said Iraq was facing its worst crisis since 2003.
"ISIS, a group that does not even see Al Qaida as extreme enough, has moved into Mosul, which is Nineveh. It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS."
Writing on the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, Canon Andrew said his work at St George’s--providing a spiritual home, medical care and humanitarian relief as well as promoting reconciliation amongst different religious groups--is inevitably suffering.
"The summer is by far our worst time of the year for support," he writes. "Both our Foundation in the UK and US have seriously had to reduce our funding. We are in a desperate crisis. So many of our people had returned their homes in Nineveh for the summer now they are stuck in this total carnage unable to even escape. We desperately need help so that we can help the Christians of this broken land just get through this new crisis. Please can you help us, we are desperate.
The terrible fact is that ISIS are in the control now of Fallujah in the South and Mosul in the North they could now move down towards Baghdad between the two and cause a total crisis there. So to be honest I don’t know what to do, do I stay or go back? I have a huge amount of commitments here. If I go back, I cannot change the situation but I want to be with my people. Here we are with this huge crisis and need and we do not even have the resources to help those most in need."
For more information on supporting Canon White's ministry visit http://frrme.org/please-please-help-us-crisis/
*the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group