Whoever they think did it, “the pope is our only power but doesn’t help us.” From USAToday.com, with thanks to Jackie:
Before Communion – the chalice and bowl were blessed on a blackened altar – the Rev. Mansur al-Mokalisy told 40 or so faithful, some in tears, not to be shaken by the latest violence aimed at Iraq’s tiny and shrinking Christian minority.
“We should be strong in our hearts and work together, united,” the priest said. “Thanks to our Muslim neighbors, who helped us. Let God protect our country, and let peace live in our hearts.”
That is a tough message for people to accept in Iraq, where every religious and ethnic group that makes up Iraq’s complex mosaic has been targeted by suicide bombs, assassinations and kidnappings.
The Baghdad church attacks reminded Christians, who represent 3% of Iraq’s estimated 25 million people, of their increasing vulnerability. “They want to spark a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims, and target Christians so they will leave Iraq,” said Wisam Ayoubi, a Syrian Christian professor, as he stood amid the cinders of a church on Saturday. “You can’t feel free. And it’s not just Christians. A lot of people are not attending classes.”
Ayoubi, who graduated from New York University in the early 1980s, added: “I don’t feel safe in church. Before, I used to go every Sunday. Now I don’t. I have two kids, and don’t want them to be hurt.”
He noted the only bright side of the attacks: They were conducted early Saturday, when the churches were empty. “Everywhere there was screaming (after the blast). We went to the roof, saw the flame, and I could feel the heat from the fire on my face. Imagine if this blast happened during Mass.”
Christians weren’t so lucky on Aug. 1 when a string of attacks hit churches during services. At least 12 people were killed and 61 were injured. It was the first significant strike against Iraqi Christians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Since then, Christian shopkeepers selling alcohol also have been targeted.
The tiny community is shrinking further as Christians flee the violence. Pascale Isho Warda, a Christian who is the interim government’s minister for displacement and migration, estimated as many as 15,000 Christians have left the country since August, when four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were blown up in a coordinated series of car bombings.
“People are frightened. We are an easy target,” said the Rev. Yousif Thomas Mirkis, a priest and theology professor. “I compare our community to pigeons. You do that (he claps) and they all fly.”
Mirkis said he has been advising people to stay in Iraq. One reason, he said, is that by his count the community accounts for 20% of Iraq’s doctors and an even larger percentage of professions like engineers and professors. “We don’t want our people to leave,” he said. “If I leave, it will not solve the problem. What about the Muslims? They are not our enemies.”
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were condemned by the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni clerical group believed to have ties to insurgents. “Islam doesn’t support the ongoing terrorism,” Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Jabbar of the association said.
Easily said, but why can’t Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Jabbar convince people like Magdi Ahmad Hussein?
At the Roman Catholic church, caretaker Jamil had received warning of a threat from U.S. troops less than 12 hours before the blast. That convinced several in the area that the U.S. was responsible. “I think the Americans made this operation (to attack churches),” said Nadwa George, a Christian neighbor. “It could not be an Iraqi. Never, never.”
Others believe that they are being persecuted because America is viewed as a Christian country. “Under the previous regime, we were protected, really. Now with the U.S., we are not,” said Audet Abdal, who lives next door. “We can’t go outside wearing any cross anymore,” she said. “Since the U.S. came, (insurgents) think they are punishing America (by hitting Christians), because Americans are Christians.”
Surah Samaan, a 25-year-old lab technician, said Christians are vulnerable in predominantly Muslim Iraq. “There’s nobody to help us. Muslims have the support of their tribe. The pope is our only power but doesn’t help us,” she said.
She said she would like to leave Iraq for good. Where would she like to go? “Anywhere – out of the Arab world – where they all think we are infidels,” she said.