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8 Baghdad Churches Close as Christians Leave Iraq

08-01-2017

The headlines out of Iraq these days focus on the recent victories over ISIS and the liberation of the city of Mosul, but the sad news is the absence of Christians in a country that once had hundreds of thousands of believers.

Now comes word that eight Catholic churches in Baghdad closed their doors in May, according to a report by International Christian Concern.  The Vatican decided to shutter the churches after seven years of very little attendance.

Christians by the hundreds of thousands have fled Iraq since the year 2000 when they represented 10 percent of Iraq's total population.

Between 2003 and 2007 Christians represented 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq as Sunni and Shia Muslims warring among themselves also targeted Christians.

Persecution by Sunni Muslim gangs caused many to leave.  One Christian named Seza told ICC, "In early 2006 we forcibly left our house because we got an envelope telling us, 'You have to leave within 48 hours, all you have to take is your clothes.  If you (take) anything else we will kill you.'" Seza added, "Still I have the envelope and the three bullets we received from the gang."

Another wave of emigration came in 2010 when suicide jihadists attacked Baghdad's Sayedat al-najat Syriac Catholic Church.  Six terrorists entered the church during a Sunday evening worship service and detonated their vests; 58 parishioners were killed and nearly 80 were wounded.

When asked if they would stay, one Iraqi Christian replied, "Why?  That's no question to ask.  Everyone wants to leave for one reason: to protect ourselves and keep our sanity."

The third wave of persecution came with the rise of ISIS in 2014.  Their crimes were so horrific that the U.S. State Department finally described it as genocide.

Although approximately 230,000 Christians remain in Iraq, some religious leaders believe the future doesn't look bright for one of the world's oldest Christian communities.  But a new generation of Iraqi Christians is rising from the ashes.  They say they need prayer from their fellow believers around the world.

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