Indigenous Christian exit from Iraq continues to grow

Indigenous Christian exit from Iraq continues to grow

Words of encouragement from local, regional and international church leaders, who want Christian institutions to remain in Iraq, have not been able to stem a tide of Iraqi refugees from leaving their country in the face of violence – writes Chris Herlinger.

The family of 60-year-old Basil Mati Koriya Kaktoma and his wife, Ekram Ishak Buni Safar, aged 55, have lived in Syria since July 2006. Refugees such as these are adamant they will never return to their homeland given their experience of threats, physical abuse and, in the case of Kaktoma, a week-long abduction by Muslim gunmen Kaktoma believes targeted him because he is Christian.

“I’d rather go to hell than go back to Iraq,” Kaktoma said in a recent interview in the family’s cramped apartment in Damascus. “What I saw was so horrible that I can’t even look at a map of my own country.”

Syrian-based leaders of the Chaldean Catholic Church, to which Kaktoma belongs, acknowledge the painful and paradoxical situation Christian institutions face because of the sectarian nature of violence in Iraq.

While they want the Church to remain in Iraq, which is a country with one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the leaders believe the long-term outlook for a church presence in Iraq is precarious.

In this situation, the Church must also offer succour to the thousands of displaced Christians who now reside in Syria and Lebanon but hope to join family members in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

“The Christians lost a lot in this situation,” Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Syria, said about the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the political and social chaos that followed. “It’s very important to have the continuity of [Christian] history in the region. Our presence is important. We have a unique experience of living with Islam.”


1 comment so far

  1. timbob on

    These are very perilous times indeed.


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