Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are all aware of the conflicts ravaging the Middle East. We feel we should be more than mere head-shaking spectators. But what can we do? We cannot all do everything. But we can choose one thing and do something.
I would like to suggest one such thing.
It’s to help the Christians in northern Iraq threatened by the so-called Islamic State.
Throughout the Middle East, and not least in that area, there are many ancient Christian communities. They are the heirs to a long rich, often painful history. They are the living bearers of traditions of liturgy, prayer and Christian life that are a precious part of the Church’s wealth. They have often been agents of social harmony in the midst of divided populations. Many of them are in full communion with the Pope and are therefore our fellow Catholics.
They have often been a cross-bearing people. They are so now. Because of the political turmoil of recent years, a majority have already emigrated. Most recently, as we know from the news, those remaining have had to flee to areas controlled by the Kurds rather than suffer violence against their faith and freedom.
Pope Francis has spoken on their behalf. So have their bishops. Three days ago, the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said this:
“The ISIS militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the plain of Niniveh, during the night of 6th-7th August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about one hundred thousand, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but… the clothes on their backs. An exodus, a real via crucis, Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter…”
These are our “own flesh and blood” (2nd Reading), both in humanity and faith. These are disciples caught in a storm of history, as in the Gospel. They deserve our support and we should give it.
It’s good to act as individuals. It’s also good to act as a Catholic community, as the Body of Christ. I am therefore asking you for three things:
1. to pray personally and publicly for these people.
2. to contribute to a special collection for them, either this Sunday or next. This will be forwarded through the diocese to the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, which is already active in this situation.
3. for those who feel able and willing, to contact your representatives in the Westminster Parliament to ask the UK Government to do whatever may be possible to put an end to this tragedy.
I end with the prayer composed by the Chaldean Patriarch:
Lord, the plight of our country is deep
and the suffering of the Christians is heavy and frightening us,
therefore we ask you Lord to assign us our lives,
to grant us patience and courage to continue to witness to our Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the basis of any life;
give us peace and stability to live with each other
without fear or anxiety, with dignity and joy.
Glory to you for ever.
† Louis Raphael I Sako
Yours gratefully in Christ,
+ Hugh OSB
Hugh Gilbert OSB, Bishop of Aberdeen