July 27, 2014 – The Story You May Not Have Heard

Sitting here on a Sunday afternoon it’s tempting to block out the happenings of the world outside.  The Cardinal game is on TV, the trees are blowing in the breeze outside the window, and the trends on Facebook include the Tour de France and a new Godzilla movie.  However, we know that much chaos and tragedy reigns.  Locally, the community is still reeling from the loss of the young Chandler couple in a traffic accident.  And worldwide, the news is still dominated by a war in Gaza which still rages on despite  pledges of a truce, and continued tensions between Russia and the Ukraine.  To say that I understand all of the details of what is going on with these conflicts would be a lie, because I don’t.  I only know that continued strife in these areas threatens a peaceful way of life.

There is something that I do know, however, that you won’t here much of on the news – what I would say is the most important, most harrowing story of the week—quite possibly, the most historically significant story of this year.  That is: the obliteration of Christianity from Iraq.  The world is only now seeming to pay attention to a horror that is unfolding before our eyes. It wasn’t until Thursday that the New York Times editorial page finally weighed in and condemned what is happening there. Other media coverage has been scant. Our government has been largely silent.

But attention must be paid.  In the city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, the church bells have fallen silent. For the first time in 1600 years, there are no Christian church services, no Masses, no liturgies. Crosses have been ripped from churches. The cathedral has been turned in to a mosque. A monastery has been raided, looted, overtaken; the monks have been expelled, taking only the clothes on their backs. In a video that is, frankly, incredible, the ancient tomb of the prophet Jonah—one of the holiest sites in the region—was bombed and destroyed.  Here is a link to that video:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/24/world/iraq-violence/

Men, women and children are literally running for their lives, fleeing to safer places to the north. In some towns, ISIS – the Islamist extremist group now dominating the country—has cut off water supplies and electricity. They have confiscated medicine. If they catch people trying to flee, they take everything they have – passports, medicine, wedding rings. The edict has gone forth: convert to Islam, or pay an outrageous tax that no one can afford. If you do not pay, you will be killed. It’s not an idle threat. Some people are being crucified.  And it is happening for one reason only: because they are Christian.

Seventy years ago our country fought in a war to stop genocide.  Now it has returned, in another place, targeting another group, going by another name. One Catholic archbishop has called it, bluntly, “religious cleansing.”  This time, the ones being cleansed are us. Christians. The first Christians were baptized in Iraq nearly 20 centuries ago. Some speak the same language that Christ himself spoke, Aramaic. Now they are being crushed under the heel of evil.

Some are trying to stop it—including Muslims. Last week, professor Mahmoud Al Asali at the University of Mosul spoke out against the reign of terror being inflicted on Christians, saying he believes it goes against the Muslim commandments.  For his courage, he was killed.  Other voices are continuing to be raised.  Friday, Jordan’s Prince El Hassan – himself a descendent of Muhammad – called for an end to violence in the name of religion in a statement that was signed by several religious and secular leaders. He wrote: “We cannot stand idly by and watch as the lives of the most vulnerable, our women and our children, are destroyed in the name of religion.”  Last Sunday, in Baghdad, both Muslims and Christians gathered in the St. George Chaldean Church to pray together—and to weep together. Some Muslims carried signs: “I’m Iraqi, I’m Christian” – a powerful show of solidarity.

Arabic-Nazarene

 

You may have seen this symbol popping up on social media recently.  In Mosul, members of ISIS have been marking Christian homes with this Arabic letter “N,” which stands for “Nazarene” – meaning Christian. It is reminiscent of the Star of David that marked Jews in Nazi Germany. But now, that “N” has swept social media and is even being seen on tee shirts. The message: no matter what our belief or our nationality, we are all Christians. We are all Iraqis. We stand together in defiance of genocide, of persecution, of hate.  If there is any consolation here, it is this: Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are not facing this alone.  Neither are we.  Many in the media may be ignoring this onslaught. We cannot.  At this moment of despair, we turn to God in prayer with love and trust. We pray, above all, for peace for all our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq, and around the world.

I don’t want to make this entire blog gloom and doom, especially since we mark a nice anniversary tomorrow (July 28).  On July 28, 2004, 10 years ago, Fr. Gene became our pastor.  Boy, it sure seems like 20 (LOL).  Seriously, we cannot thank Fr. Gene enough for his leadership and care of our parish and our people.  As I have mentioned before, we have been so fortunate as a parish regarding our pastors.  Since 1892, a span of 122 years, we have had only six pastors, an average tenure of a little over 20 years each.  So Fr. Gene, you’re only halfway done with us (LOL).  Again, we have been so fortunate to have been able to benefit from his guidance, and we pray for his continued well-being.

Hopefully the coming week will bring better news to us.  Have a great week.  Peace to all of us.

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