Islamic Pressure Increases on Christian Communities

BAGHDAD, Iraq, APRIL 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Christian churches in Baghdad have been forced to remove crosses as threats from Islamic extremists cause pressure to mount.

Wednesday was the bloodiest day in Baghdad since the start of U.S. security operations. Nearly 200 people were killed in a string of attacks in Iraq's capital. Meanwhile AsiaNews reported new threats to Christians.

The churches in the Dora region, a Christian quarter of Baghdad, have received threats from an unknown Islamic group, which warned: "Get rid of the cross or we will burn your churches."

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad told AsiaNews: "In the last two months many churches have been forced to remove the crosses from their domes.

"In the case of the Church of St. George, in Assira, Muslim extremists took the situation into their own hands: They climbed onto the roof and ripped down the cross."

Bishop Warduni added that "in the Chaldean Church of St. John, in Dora, which has been without a pastor for months, the parishioners themselves decided to move the cross to a safer place following repeated threats."

The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul has received the same threats but so far has withstood the intimidation.

Ultimatum

AsiaNews reported that the same unknown Islamic group active in Dora seems to have delivered an ultimatum to the Christian community there: Convert to Islam or die.

Reports say that they have delivered a fatwa forbidding Christians to wear crosses or make any religious gesture, and permitting the confiscation of goods and properties belonging to Christian families forced to flee their homes.

Baghdad's Christian community's worries have been increased by the U.S. military's decision to forcibly occupy the facilities of Babel College, which belongs to the Chaldean Church. The college, the only faculty of theology in the country, houses one of the most ancient religious libraries in the region, full of priceless manuscripts, AsiaNews reported.

Because of the increased insecurity in the city and continual abductions of religious, the faculty had transferred to Ankawa, in Kurdistan, last January, leaving the building empty.

The U.S. military is now using the college facilities as an observation outpost. Apparently, however, an agreement has been made to abandon the structure in coming weeks.

"The Iraqi people are tired," said Bishop Warduni. "We have been suffering for far too long and the situation has become unsustainable. We ask God to give us peace. The Christians, just like the Muslims, want to rebuild Iraq. We don’t want to be forced to flee, because this is where we were born, this is where we have lived our lives."

Code: ZE07041912

Date: 2007-04-19


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