Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 14, 2010

To live as a faithful Christian in a Muslim land has never been easy; the Koran demands that Jews and Christians should be made to feel their inferiority, and though as "People of the Book" they are not to be compelled to renounce their faith, they are to be forced to pay a humiliating special tax for the privilege of being allowed a very limited freedom, with, in the case of Christians, no public display of a cross or sounding of church bells and with a very circumscribed right even to make repairs on existing church structures, let alone to build a new one. But today, thanks to a recent virulent mutation in the traditional understanding of a Muslim's obligation to wage jihad, Al-Qaeda and related movements in the Islamic world have made trying to live in a Muslim land as a practicing Christian a life-threatening endeavor.

The latest example of this recent grim crescendo in Islamist violence towards Christians is the appalling massacre of Iraqi Catholics in Baghdad's Our Lady of Deliverance Church less than a fortnight ago. Agents of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia were the fanatical suicidal aggressors. Here is the account that appeared in the Wall Street Journal for November 2nd.
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Toll in Iraq Church Attack Hits 58; Al Qaeda-linked Siege on Mass Ends in Suicide Blasts; Question Over Raid
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Iraqi officials said Monday that nearly all of those inside a Baghdad Catholic church seized by terrorists the previous day were dead or injured, underscoring Iraq's tenuous security following this summer's U.S. military pullout.

In Sunday's attack, militants armed with guns and grenades captured one of Baghdad's main Catholic places of worship, taking 100 to 150 Christians hostage. About four hours later, around the time Iraqi security forces stormed the building, witnesses said the militants detonated explosive-laden vests.

Casualty numbers climbed dramatically Monday from the few deaths initially reported. Iraqi officials said 58 people had died, including two priests and six terrorists. They said 78 were wounded, many of them missing limbs or in critical condition. It remained unclear whether the deaths and injuries were inflicted by the hostage-takers or came, to some degree, amid the rescue attempt.

The strike on Our Lady of Deliverance church appeared to be the decade's deadliest attack targeting Iraq's dwindling Christian minority group and has shocked the community, which largely sat out the sectarian violence of recent years.

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the assault as "ferocious" and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned it, saying it was an attempt to drive more Christians out of the country.

The attack also appears to represent a broadening in the offensive of Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, which has been linked with many of Iraq's worst killings in the last 18 months. A group called the Islamic State of Iraq, linked to Al Queda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility and SAID the attack marked THE BEGINNING OF A CAMPAIGN TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIAN MINORITIES FROM  IRAQ...

Iraqi authorities said they had arrested several suspects, many of them NON-Iraqi nationals.

In a statement, the U.S. military called the police raid that ended the standoff "proof of the [Iraqi Security Forces'] tactical competency to provide professional security to the citizens of Iraq." The statement didn't comment on what, if any, role U.S. forces played in the raid.

But Iraqi officials said a small contingent of U.S. soldiers was present on the ground to advise the Iraqi forces and the anti-terrorist squad and that U.S. military helicopters hovered overhead during the raid.

Sunday's carnage started, according to witnesses and Iraqi media, when gunmen attacked two nearby buildings, the stock exchange and a bank. About eight explosives-laden gunmen then entered the church, where evening Mass had just ended and worshippers were gathering in the church's hallway.

Bassam Jacob, a 21-year-old college senior who was inside the church, said gunmen broke in and opened fire at the crowd, killing a priest who had tried to reason with them.  In an interview, Mr. Jacob said he was shoved into a side room where he says he remained for the next four and a half hours. Mr. Jacob said the majority of worshippers were kept in the church's sanctuary and told to lie face down and not move. Several people managed to call authorities from their cell phones. The hostage-takers also called Iraqi officials and a television station, demanding the release of Al Qaeda prisoners held in Iraq. Iraqi forces and anti-terrorist squads surrounded the church. After about four hours, they stormed inside. Mr. Jacob and others said that when the police entered, several gunmen in the main sanctuary blew themselves up, leaving flesh and blood across ceiling and walls. Mr. Jacob said one gunman threw a grenade into the side room where he was holed up with about 50 people.

Iraqi media and at least one lawmaker on Monday suggested that Iraqi security forces responded hastily, possibly leading to more bloodshed. Mr. Jacob, who survived with minor injuries, said he couldn't recall the battle that followed Iraqi forces' entrance. The terrorists "were just killing people," he said. "The army really liberated us."

"I saw things I never thought I would see in my life. The only thought that kept coming to my mind was that if I survive, I WILL TAKE MY FAMILY AND LEAVE IRAQ," said Mr. Jacob. Younadim Kanna, a Christian Iraqi lawmaker, said in an interview Monday that while he didn't fault security forces, lawmakers were to blame for the security deterioration that followed their failure to establish a government after March elections.

"People are very disappointed and this will have a very negative consequence on their morale," Mr. Kanna said. "The government must take serious steps to have rule of law on the streets."

The U.S. turned responsibility for Iraqi cities over to Iraqi security forces in June 2009, but U.S. forces have remained active as advisers and trainers for Iraqi forces, often accompanying them on raids and missions. Despite an Aug. 31 official end to U.S. combat operations, American troops have assisted and participated in a number of anti-terror operations. 
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In recent years Christians have been fleeing the Middle East in great numbers. Nations belonging to what once upon a time was known as Christendom are welcoming them. But before a significant Christian presence in Biblical lands has completely vanished, our government surely could do more to bring pressure on Middle Eastern governments to intervene more energetically to protect their Christian populations. And let us support our persecuted fellow believers as best we can with persistent prayer.
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