11/22/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Threats and extortion force Caritas Mosul to shut down

One of the Caritas workers explains what happened: they wanted money for the resistance to US occupation. The Church and Christians are the preferred target of those who want easy money. A theology course for lay people is holding out: it has transferred from Mosul to a safer area.

Mosul (AsiaNews) – Caritas Mosul has been forced to close its doors because of continued intimidation and insistent requests to fund the activities of a local Muslim group. AsiaNews heard this from one of its workers, who was compelled to leave the city for fear of reprisals. The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, worked as a social researcher for the Catholic organization from 1995 to September, when the "agony" of Caritas started.

She said: "At the beginning of the month, our leader received a phone call at home from a Muslim group that was well aware that the telephone at the centre was not working as it needed to be repaired." The young woman continued: "The group did not identify itself by name. First the caller recited a verse from the Koran and then asked us to give the group money to support resistance to the American occupation of Iraq." The person talking took care to stress that he "knew all the activities of the centre perfectly well, the number of employees, their precise identity and he did not want to hear any fuss. We tried to explain to him that as Caritas, we do not have funds for our activities except donations from believers who help us to support only those who are most in need." But there was nothing to be done: "They told us that what we were saying was untrue and that the Church could give money, because the Church is rich."

Finally, after several phone calls, the Muslim group issued an ultimatum for the delivery of "as high a sum of money as possible". 

In the week when negotiations were taking place, however, there was the address of Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg and the exploited controversies over his alleged offence to Islam. "They were very angry and they called us, asking to speak to the bishops of the city to tell them they should express disapproval of the pope's words in Germany."

When the threats became more and more insistent, the director told the group Caritas could only give 1,000,000 Iraqi dinars, but no more. "Naturally this was not enough and they asked us to increase the sum but after the umpteenth refusal on our part, they were convinced and accepted the offer. We had no choice, but since then the centre had to close as it was impossible to continue in such conditions."
Since the start of the war, Caritas in Mosul never stopped its activities, not even for one day. The organization used to look after homeless people and 90% of its work catered for Muslims. The work of Caritas continues in Baghdad, in Christian villages of Nineveh and in Kurdistan.

Although the Iraqi Church is facing increasing trials, it has not lost hope of pressing ahead with its mission. Insecurity prevailing in the area obliged the diocese of Mosul to suspend a theology course for lay people that was being held in the city. But sources of the Chaldean community said this was only a temporary problem as the course will be transferred to a neighouring safer village.

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