The “twilight of Christianity” in Iraq

Sad and sobering news, from the New York Times:

Iraq’s dwindling Christians, driven from their homes by attacks and intimidation, are beginning to abandon the havens they had found in the country’s north, discouraged by unemployment and a creeping fear that the violence they had fled was catching up to them.

Their quiet exodus to Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States is the latest chapter of a seemingly inexorable decline that many religious leaders say tolls the twilight of Christianity in a land where city skylines have long been marked by both minarets and church steeples. Recent assessments say that Iraq’s Christian population has now fallen by more than half since the 2003 American invasion, and with the military’s departure, some Christians say they lost a protector of last resort.

Their flight is felt in places like the wind-scoured village of Tenna, which has sheltered dozens of Christian migrants over the past nine years. The families fleeing Baghdad’s death squads and bombings found safety here beneath the hulking mountains, but little else besides poverty, boredom and cold. Villagers estimate that half of the 50 or so Christian homes are now empty, their families abroad.

Walid Shamoon, 42, wants to be the next to leave. He said he left Iraq’s capital in January 2011 after a confrontation with Shiite militia members set off a nightmare of escalating death threats and an attempt on his life. A brother had already been killed in a mortar attack six years earlier, so he said he quit his contract job with the Australian Embassy, giving up a $1,500 monthly salary, and came here.

These days, all he can think about is his application to emigrate to Arizona.

“This is not a life,” he said one recent afternoon, as a blizzard raced down from the mountains. “There is no improvement. There is no work.”

Many of the people now struggling in Iraq’s Kurdish north came in the wake of a suicide attack in Baghdad at Our Lady of Salvation Church in October 2010. It was the single worst assault on Iraq’s Christians since the war began, one that left 50 worshipers and 2 priests dead and that turned the church into a charnel house of scorched pews and shattered stained glass.

Christian families in Baghdad grabbed clothing, cash and a few other provisions and headed north for the Christian communities along the Nineveh plain and Kurdistan’s three provinces. They joined tens of thousands of other Christians from the capital, Mosul and other cities who traced similar arcs after earlier attacks and assassination campaigns.

“They traded everything for security,” said the Rev. Gabriel Tooma, who leads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in the Christian town of Qosh, which took in dozens of families.

The Christians in northern Iraq make up a tiny fraction of Iraq’s legions of displaced people. In all, there are 1.3 million of them across the country, according to the most recent United Nations estimates. Many live in garbage dumps, shanty towns and squalor far worse than anything facing the Christian families in Kurdistan.

Read more.

And for more on the plight of Iraq’s Christians, check out “A New Genesis in Nineveh,” from a recent issue of ONE magazine.


  1. yet another article form the NYTimes.

  2. It is absolutely scandalous that there is virtually nothing reported about this in the mainstream media and that the governments of the UK and US remain silent. So, Iraq has been ‘liberated’; tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have lost their homes.

  3. Our POTUS says and does nothing about this, but finds them time to rip away our religious freedoms through his HHS mandate.

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Re: mainstream media coverage of Iraq’s Christians.

    That’s what I thought, too. But if you Google “Christians in Iraq,” you’ll find a lot of entries — 40 million results, in fact — with a number of sympathetic stories from the last year or so from the New York Times, the LA Times, the PBS NewsHour, USATODAY, the BBC, the Guardian, FOX News, Asia Times, Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor.

  5. Barbara P says:

    Recently we had a priest from CNWEA visit our parish to raise money for a Bible summer camp for Iraqi Refugees in Jordan. He spoke at the Masses and to the schoolchildren about the real religious persecution against Christians going on all over the Middle East and the isolation of Christian children. His talks were very powerful. I have been praying for these Christians especially for the Iranian pastor sentenced to death for being a Christian.

  6. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Fr. Hayden, perhaps? :-)

  7. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Why is the POTUS being blamed? If memory serves, it was another president who dreamed up the ill thought out invasion of Iraq. We still pay for that stupidity.
    Further: the poor Christians of Syria are next in line and those in Egpt already feel the heel of oppresion. It is a sad situation.

  8. Barbara P. says:

    I’m sorry – I don’t remember his name! But I can’t forget his homily – it has stayed with me.

  9. pagansister says:

    It’s a shame that conditions in Iraq (didn’t we liberate them from the awful dictator so conditions for everyone would be better?) are such that the few Christians that were left are forced to leave. However, if I were one of them, I’d be leaving also.

  10. I’m shocked that the alleged “religion of peace” is allowing Christians to co-exist with them. Shocked.

  11. The problem goes much deeper that any one president or even our moronic and useless war in Iraq. This, and other countries like Syria and most of the region, are places with NO tradition of rule of law or human rights. This is a no-quarter asked or given sort of place.
    Many of these places have also had situations where one religious/ethnic minority has been ruling over the majority group with an iron fist for decades. In some of these cases, Christians, as a minority themselves, cast their lot with the ruling elite, either out of opportunism or simple necessity. In the case of Hussein, his brutality was also a refuge. He was secular and didn’t much care what religion anyone was so long as no one questioned his rule. Christian violence subsided simply because he would not tolerate any violence he didn’t order. There was a similar dynamic in Egypt. We propped up these brutal, largely secular police state regimes so long as they furthered our ends, and crushed them when they no longer served our purpose, and Christians, and many others, are paying the price.

  12. I think the MSM stories are more crocodile tears than sympathetic:

    “and with the military’s departure, some Christians say they lost a protector of last resort.”

    That from the paper that led the charge in getting those protectors of last resort withdrawn before a sufficiently stable and protective government could be stood up.

  13. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Notice that many of these Middle Eastern Christians are fleeing to the U.S. Thus ethnic Middle Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian parishes are growing rapidly here. But, a lot of Americans wrongly assume that all the Middle Easterners coming here are Moslem and potential terrorists. Yet Middle Eastern Christians fleeing here are even less likely than American converts to Islam to become allies of Islamic terrorists. For these Christian refugees know what it is like to live under Islamic tyranny.

  14. I agree with all this. The Bush administration was hell bent on the Iraq folly, with no opposition from the other side of the aisle. Now it’s Obama’s war, with not a word of regret for this mad slaughter. The Bush White House had nothing but contempt for the warnings of what this would mean for the ancient indigenous Christian communities of the middle east, so the Obama administration and MSM have received the clear signal that the whole subject is safe to ignore.

  15. Richard Johnson says:

    Let’s see…first it’s that the MSM isn’t reporting the story. Then, when that meme pops like a weak balloon, along comes another one that the stories that are out there (dozens upon dozens, it appears) aren’t sincere.

    Some people will never be pleased.

  16. Richard Johnson says:

    Bear in mind that the story above highlights what is happening in the north of Iraq. This is the Kurdish region, whose inhabitants were viewed as allies in the War against Saddam. These were viewed as “the good guys” in the country.

    Truly, the Bush/Obama war continues to waste innocent life, and will do so for generations, no doubt.

  17. This is sad. But this is a result of the demise of Saddam Hussein. To think that Christians were only prevented from persecution by the evil brutality of someone who was nearly evil incarnate. While this is sad perhaps this is for the best in the long run. Their suffering will lead to a better life. I have faith. I wish we could take all into our country.

  18. I realize it might be hard to remember back a few years, but last time I looked, almost 100% of the Democratic Party was in full support of the war in Iraq and voted to given Bush administration the authority to go to war. They had insisted he come to congress and get a vote which he did, but they added a proviso that he get vote in the UN, which he did, and then he came back to congress multiple times for funding. When things were going well, the democrats were lined up behind him. When things got a little tough, the filipped and flopped all over not know what to do becuase they wanted part credit if it went well and to claim they never heard of Iraq war resolution if things did not go well. Prior to Bush, the democrats who ran for the presidency were all calling for regime change in Iraq even if it led to war because of the danger of leaving WMD in the hands of someone who proved he was willing to use them.

    However, I do not agree with either party leading us into Iraq or anywhere else without getting a delaration of war passed by Congress, something we have failed to do in every way after WWII.

    Even more troubling is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Telling Congress We Don’t Need You to Start New War.

    I think all Catholics should be outraged and demand that we need strong Congressional vote for war and this new claim of power to act alone is frightening.

    I feel bad for all Christians and any other faith that tries to survive under the rule of Islamic countries. That religion does not offer freedom to any religion except Islam while at the same time demanding every freedom to do what they want in non Islamic countries. Without full religious freedom FROM government action, there can be no true freedom as we are starting to see undler the godless secular state religion in the USA with Obama.

  19. “Last last time I looked, almost 100% of the Democratic Party was in full support of the war”

    Well, that was rather my point, wasn’t it. The fake hysteria over non existent WMDs was very much a bipartisan hoax. Both parties have disgraced themselves and betrayed the country.

  20. Excellent point deacon John. We have several living in our parish and their testimony about Islam is frightening. One has lived under Islam in three different countries in the Middle East and indicated the issue is not the government, but the Islamic leaders. He refuses to call them religious leaders. He had with him books used in the schools at the youngest age and they are filled with hatred of anyone or anything that does not bow down to Islam. They are also filled with complete lies and distortions much like the propoganda produced by the Nazi’s about the Jews.

    He had much more to say as did the other two families, but it was certainly filled with hatred of Islam which one could understand from what they have been put through. He could not understand if we know about these attacks on people, why the USA does not stop it and why we keep giving Islam cover. Their stories of beatings, rape, torture, and beheading are almost impossible to listen to and to know that they were carried out at the order of Islamic leadership makes it hard to ever see Islam and peace mentioned in the same sentence. I saw hundreds of people who came to hear them speak wiping away tears and showing anger. One person asked him if their life was not a lot better before America and her allies came to remove Saddam and they all laughed. If you like the life of a slave with no rights and Muslim who accuses you of anything is taken as fact. They said when America came there was dancing in the streets and we thought we would not have some religious and other freedom. The evil ones ran away and hid. Many Muslims also rejoiced. But soon it became clear that those coming in did not understand the full complexity and the evil ones were not eliminated, but often allowed back into positions of power. But much of the worse problems came when it was apparent that Bush would no longer be leader in USA and that Obama who was not for the war and promised to pull everyone out gained power. There was no restraint left but open attacks including Muslims who had supported the change. They fled before Obama went into office, but still have a few friends left on the inside. They hear the same thing is starting in Afghanistan from refugees who still have family in that country. Many of the women who were promised by the president and sec of state Clinton they would not be abandoned and sent their girls to school are now facing massive persecution. They don’t know why we can still have troops in Germany and Korea, but are leaving these countries before we have even defeated the enemy. It is truly sad to talk to these victims of US actions and abandonment to the mess.

  21. As in Vietnam, we seem to have entered a conflict without an exit strategy. Sadly, as we encourage so-called “freedom movements” to topple government after government in the Middle East, we seem to pay little heed to the freedom of minorities in those countries, including Christians. I’m afraid that we’re trading oppressive dictatorships for oppressive Islamic fundamentalist states. We only need to look to Iran for a model of what occurs in this type of situation. I have felt from day one that the United States has interfered in the region in ways that are hard to justify. We seem to have little difficulty in applying pressure to little countries with an insignificant military presence (Libya) while at the same time looking the other way when big, powerful countries commit the same types of acts (China).

    I’m not sure if there is a solution to this problem, but I really feel that the US doesn’t have a mandate to try to solve all the world’s problems. It doesn’t make much sense to look for our current administration to champion religious freedom in other parts of the world when it is currently attacking such freedom in our own country. It might be possible that maybe we should just leave other countries alone as long as they aren’t posing a threat to us. Helping countries trade dictators for new dictators puts us right back where we were fifty years ago, except at least then we chose to place dictators in power who were friendly to the US.

  22. Richard Johnson says:

    “One person asked him if their life was not a lot better before America and her allies came to remove Saddam and they all laughed.”

    Maybe then we should learn an important lesson from that, as it was America who helped to put Saddam in power in the first place, and supported him in the 80s and 90s.


  1. [...] Deacon’s Bench – The “twilight of Christianity” in Iraq [...]

  2. [...] due to the fact that the U.S. got out of Iraq before the job was finished. Christians are being persecuted en masse; Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other almost daily; and Iran is steadily [...]

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