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Iraqi Christians seek hope from Lebanon papal visit
ICC Note:
More than 200 Christians from Iraq traveled to Lebanon to see Pope Benedict XVI. “The pope’s visit… serves as a reminder for us Iraqi Christians that there is still hope,” one Christian told Agence France-Presse. Before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were roughly 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today, only 450,000 remain. According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation in Iraq, 900 Christians were killed and 200 were kidnapped between 2003 to May 2012. “Iraq’s Christians have suffered deeply, and we need to remain faithful to God and our religion in order to make the country better,” said Father Jamal Zako from Erbil.
By Serene Assir
09/16/2012 Lebanon (Google News)- Among the many thousands at Lebanon’s presidential palace Saturday to greet Pope Benedict XVI were more than 220 Chaldean Christians, who travelled from across war-battered Iraq for the historic occasion.
“The pope’s visit to Lebanon is a blessing for the whole Middle East,” said Shammas Selim from Ankawa in the north Iraqi province of Arbil. “It serves as a reminder for us Iraqi Christians that there is still hope.”
Iraq’s Chaldeans belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. But along with other Iraqi Christians, they suffered persecution, forced flight and killings in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion.
Before 2003 there were more than a million Christians living in Iraq. Now they number around 450,000.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, many thousands fled after 44 worshippers and two priests were killed in an attack on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad on October 31, 2010, an atrocity claimed by Al-Qaeda.
From 2003 to May 2012, some 900 Christians were killed, while 200 were kidnapped, tortured and ultimately released for exorbitant ransoms, according to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation in Iraq.
“The situation is a little better for us now, because we live in (Kurdish) Arbil,” Father Jamal Zako told AFP. Many Christians fled their homes in other parts of the country for the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“In general, Iraq’s Christians have suffered deeply, and we need to remain faithful to God and our religion in order to make the country better,” he said.
Both Zako and Selim said the key to restoring peace to Iraq was “forgiveness and coexistence. We need to listen to what God is really trying to tell us about peace and honesty, regardless of what religion we belong to.”
Battered by war and occupation for almost 10 years, and ruthless dictatorship for decades before that, Iraq’s multi-confessional fabric has been badly damaged by violence.
But the Iraqis who travelled to Lebanon this weekend believe there is still hope for their nation.
“All humans — even criminals — are made in the image of God,” said Zako.
“We need to remain faithful to the message of Christianity, and we will make it through,” said 44-year-old Shouan, also from Arbil.
“Despite our people’s suffering and exile, we are still one of Iraq’s most important communities,” he said, noting that a plethora of minorities has long lived side by side with Muslims, but that years of war and terror have driven deep rifts between religious groups.
“Like Christ himself, we need to learn to suffer and remain faithful despite any pain,” said Shouan. “We should not give up on our message, now more than ever.”

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