The word floated up in my mind as I read of the systematic destruction of the ancient religious and cultural heritage of the city of Mosul by Iraq’s “Islamic State” militants who, having driven out the city’s centuries-old Christian population, have been turning even to iconic and treasured Muslim sites.
The same word came to mind again when I saw the words of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Chaldean bishop Sarhad Yawsip Hermiz Jammo at a recent Chaldean Catholic liturgy in San Diego, especially as Bishop Jammo compared his people to Abraham as “they would prepare to leave for the land God will show to them”. The analogy reflects a tragic coming to terms with the deep loss that Sandri lamented in a mournful yet hopeful homily in which he also denounced all religious violence. He recalled Psalm 137 even as the same rivers that once belonged to ancient Babylon receive again the tears of God’s children.
I hardly know what to call such news; any word I could choose (crisis, tragedy, situation, events…) feels either trite or diluted. But however I might name it, it’s been growing heavy on my mind of late, both because I am deeply troubled by all violence and, more personally, out of worry for my friend and his community (whom I wrote about last year here and here). At one point recently, I suddenly recalled almost out of nowhere something I’d heard a college professor of mine say back when the drums were being beaten for the invasion of Iraq now over a decade ago. Recalling Jesus’ parable of the unclean spirit leaving and returning with seven more (Matthew 12:43-45), he asked what other “spirits” might rise up to take the place of Saddam Hussein.
And then I finally learned the meaning of this:
This image of Arabic script I’ve seen spreading across social media turns out to be the equivalent of “N”, standing for “Nazarene”, which the Islamic State used to mark Christian homes in Mosul. And now the image haunts me.
Unlike the residents of Mosul, for me this image comes with very little personal cost. Yet it has rapidly grown into a sign of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in peril. As for causes of their present peril I have many more questions than answers, and I don’t want to add any clamor of looking for someone to blame, but rather, with Cardinal Sandri, to “offer for the Oriental Christians the silence of our prayer, that is not similar to that of the indifference, because it takes vigor from the silence of Christ on the cross that was full of eternal love.”
With them, let us lament. With them, let us hope. With them, let us bear witness to Jesus the Nazarene, the Prince of Peace.