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Iraq church has ‘new martyrs’, says Baghdad archbishop

ICC Note

“So in Iraq the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ is strong enough to face martyrdom.”

By Stephen Brown

10 December 2007 Iraq (ENI)-Christians are fleeing Iraq and Christianity risks disappearing from the country, says a senior Baghdad archbishop, reiterating appeals made recently to Western churches to intercede with their governments about the plight of the Iraqis. “We do have the courage of faith, the outpouring of love, but because of the war, you see death and destruction, the manifestation of evil. Our people are lacking hope, and so they are leaving,” said Archbishop Avak V. Asadourian of the Armenian Church of Iraq in an interview with Ecumenical News International on 10 December.

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Despite the hardships, Asadourian, who leads the Council of the Heads of the Churches in Baghdad, said the faith of the Christians in Iraq, who are estimated to account for less than 3 per cent of the country’s 27.5 million people, has not wavered, although many reports have said their numbers have dwindled.

“On the contrary, we have been steadfast in our faith,” said the archbishop. He recounted how a Syrian Orthodox priest had been decapitated in the northern Iraq city of Mosul , apparently for refusing to “adopt another religion”. In the same city, a Chaldean priest and his three assistants were shot dead in June this year a few metres from their church.

“We have new martyrs in the church in Iraq ,” said Asadourian. “I know of no one incident in the last four years where priests have converted to another religion because they have been threatened,” the archbishop stated, adding the same was true for lay people. “So in Iraq the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ is strong enough to face martyrdom.”

Nevertheless, “we are faced with the problem of the lack of hope,” the archbishop said in his sermon. “Unless the churches in Iraq can open small windows if hope then I am afraid that Christianity will face a slow demise not only in Iraq but in the entire region where Jesus Christ lived and worked,” he said

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