United Kingdom charity Aid to the Church in Need issued a report to the House of Lords this week warning that Christianity could be extinct in Iraq in only five years.
“Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith,” declared Prime Minister David Cameron. Catholic Herald further reports:
“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.
“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”
Christians lived throughout Iraq since the founding of the religion up to 2013 but faced massive persecution in 2014 when the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group began making inroads in the country. ISIS jihadists stormed into Iraq, declared the lands part of their Caliphate, and forced out or murdered the Christians. Under Saddam Hussein, there were 1.4 million Christians; only 260,000 remain.
“To be a Christian in Iraq, you have no future,” said Professor Aziz Emmanuel al-Zebari, a Chaldean Catholic, at Salahaddin University. “There is no security. … The economic situation, with no salaries, no job opportunities, no educational opportunities, people are just waiting for nothing so they decide to leave the country.”
The report highlighted the plight of 80-year-old Victoria and Gazella in Karamlesh. In August 2014, Victoria traveled down the street for Mass, but it was eerily quiet since most people left when they heard ISIS was coming for their town. She sought shelter with Gazella, where they prayed for four days before militants discovered them. They kindly told the men they were low on supplies. The militants gave them food and water, even when the women refused to covert to Islam. But more terrorists discovered them a few days later:
This time they were taken to a hill on the edge of Karamlesh where a group of 10 other Christians were gathered in front of the shrine to St. Barbara. The last Christian inhabitants of the village were asked once again to renounce their faith. “You must convert,” they were told. “Our faith can promise you paradise.”
But Gazella spoke up: “We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith then we are prepared to die here and now.”
The speech shocked the terrorists, who could not find a proper response. They decided to free the remaining Christians. Now Victoria and Gazella reside in northern Iraq, but they are “grateful that God had granted them the strength they had prayed for.”
In July 2014, Andrew White, the vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, told BBC Radio 4 that Christianity is coming to an end in the Middle Eastern country.
“Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing,” he said. “We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off. The Christians are in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go.”
“Are we seeing the end of Christianity?” he continued. “We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near.”
ISIS told Christians in Mosul, home to one of the largest Christianity communities in the world, to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or die. The majority chose to leave, and for the first time in over 2,000 years, no Christians are in Mosul. ISIS marked Christian homes with an “N” for Nazarene.
“There is not a single Christian family left in Mosul,” said Bashar Nasih Behnam, who left with his two children. “The last one was a disabled Christian woman. She stayed because she could not get out. They came to her and said you have to get out and if you don’t we will cut off your head with a sword. That was the last family.”