Baghdad (AsiaNews) – “Get rid of the cross or we will burn your Churches”. This is the threat aimed at the Chaldean Church of Sts Peter and Paul, located in the ancient Christian quarter of Baghdad, Dora. Local sources say an unknown armed Islamic group is behind the threats which are inseminating terror in the capital. The Arab website Ankawa.com and Aina news agency speak of a campaign of persecution in act in the area. Even Mosul, a Sunni stronghold, the Christian presence is being gravely threatened.
Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, tells AsiaNews “in the last 2 months many Churches have been forced to remove their crosses from their domes”. In the case of the Church of St. George, assira, Muslim extremists took the situation into their own hands: they climbed onto the roof and ripped out the cross. In the Chaldean Church of St John, in Dora, which has been without a pastor for months now, the parishioners themselves decided to move the cross to a safer place following repeated threats.
The same threats which have arrived at the Church of Sts Peter and Paul, which has so far however withstood intimidation: the cross hasn’t been removed but the threats continue. “The Iraqi people are tired – says Warduni – we have been suffering for far too long 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”.
The Islamic group active in Dora seems to have delivered an ultimatum to the Christian community there: convert to Islam or die; moreover reports say that they have delivered a Fatwa forbidding Christians to wear the cross or make any religious gesture. It also permits the confiscation of goods and properties belonging to the Christian families who find themselves forced to flee their homes for safety at short notice.
Baghdad’s Christian community’s worries have been added to by the US military’s decision to forcibly occupy Babel College, property of the Chaldean Church. The Babel, the only faculty of theology in the country, houses on of the most ancient religious libraries in the region, full of priceless manuscripts. Because of the increased insecurity in the city and continual abductions of religious the faculty had transferred to Ankawa, in Kurdistan January last, leaving the building empty. The US military are now using it as an observation outpost. The building is located at a strategic crossroads: within a Sunni enclave, in front of a Shiite district. Leaders from the local Church are discussing the issue with military representatives. Apparently they have promised to abandon the structure in the coming weeks.