Qaroqosh, the Christian capital of Northern Iraq, the largest Christian city in the country, fell to an advancing Islamic terror army, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), during the night of August 6 to August 7. The Kurdish fighters (the Peshmerga) and Assyrian allies defending the city decided they could not assure the safety of its inhabitants, and it became an open city. Tens of thousands of Christians who have lived in the Nineveh Plains since time immemorial are now rushing towards Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region. The date of August 7 is thus a date that will live forever in shame for all humanity.
The head of the Catholic community in Iraq, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon has cried out on behalf of his people. “The Christians of Iraq face an enormous tragedy,” Sako wrote in an open letter to Pope Francis on August 5. “Their churches have been profaned. The Church finds herself completely alone….”
He continued: “The motivation for all of these killings is the lust for everything that lies beneath the earth like oil and gas…. What else explains this war so curiously radicalized and, as if following an excellently premeditated plan…. Donations and fundraising are not what will solve our problems. We have to demand a large-scale administrative [governmental] operation on an international level… because we are before a crisis related to our very existence, confronting the fact that ‘we will be or we will not be.’ This is an appeal from the bottom of the heart in the search for a solution that lies uniquely in the hands of the international community and above all with the great powers.
“We also appeal to our brothers and sisters around the world, that they too be truly with us in solidarity at this our time of suffering this terrible ordeal…”
Inside the Vatican, and our Urbi et Orbi Foundation, are in solidarity with Patriarch Sako and the Christian communities of the Middle East. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this “religious cleansing,” and we ask our readers and friends to consider what we may do to change the policies of those governments that have not acted to prevent this.
There has been no ethno-religious cleansing in such a vast area (almost all of northern and eastern Syria and western and northwestern Iraq) since the Partition of India, nearly 70 years ago. Mosul fell almost 60 days ago — and it is a fact well known in Washington that the current United States administration knew and had the chance to make an effort to stop the advance of the Islamic terrorist army long before they reached this city of 700,000 people, but chose not to.
During this long 60-day period, four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, all nations with large Christian majorities at least nominally, could not propose a single resolution creating a safe haven for minorities in Iraq. Two of these nations — the United States and the United Kingdom — are primarily responsible for the current state of affairs in Iraq. The abandonment of the Christians of Iraq by the very powers that created this situation is monstrous. New policies are needed.
As Patriarch Sako said in his August 5 letter, the advance of the Islamic forces is so successful that it is clearly “excellently premeditated” and planned. The international silence of governments and media is so scandalous the only conclusion we can reasonably reach is that these powers that be, these accomplices, wanted this Christian genocide to happen, this ethno-religious cleansing of almost unprecedented proportions. The Islamic blitzkrieg is facilitated by many in the region, and the West has become an accomplice of its successes.
What will be the long-term consequences? “Let us not kid ourselves,” the Rorate Caeli website writes. “Our divine punishment for this will come: ‘a greater punishment is ready for the more mighty.’ Syrian and Iraqi Christians are us. They are us. By leaving them behind, we are digging our own graves. As Maronite Catholic Amine Gemayel, former president of Lebanon, said decades ago in prophetic words: ‘If we don’t stop them here, they will one day expel the Christians from all the Middle East. One day, they will be at your gates, in Europe.’ In Europe, and beyond.”
This small publication cannot hope to do very much immediately to change the fate of the Christians of Iraq. Still, the spectacle of their flight prompts us to do what we can. For this reason, we have launched a Foundation, the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, to defend the Christian heritage, and the Christians, of the West and of the world. Our first priority is to support all possible actions to reunite the eastern and western Christian Churches, Orthodoxy and Catholicism. To prepare and coordinate actions in this regard, a group of 12 of the Foundation’s Founding Members made our first pilgrimage during July to the “three Romes” — to Moscow (the third Rome), to Istanbul (the second Rome) and to Rome (the first Rome) from July 12 to 24. (We also stopped in Vienna, which could be considered the “fourth Rome,” as for a millennium it was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire.) On July 17, the day Malaysian airliner Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, we were flying from Moscow to Istanbul; we were over Kiev, Ukraine, heading south, just about the same time that the Malaysian airliner was heading east toward Donetsk, where it crashed. Our thoughts go to those who lost their lives in that tragedy.)
Our goal was to open and to support lines of communication and collaboration between these ancient capitals. We were received with great warmth by leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, especially by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (who is close to Patriarch Kirill); by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople, who graciously received us at his residence in the Phanar; by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, President of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, who hosted us for an afternoon at the Pazmaneum in Vienna; and by Bishop Brian Farrell of the Vatican’s Council for the Promotion of Christian unity, who received us in his offices on Via della Conciliazione in Rome. We were lodged in the Domus Santa Marta, the residence of Pope Francis.
We are now planning initiatives to help heal the divisions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and to aid the Christians of the Middle East. We invite all who wish to support us in this effort to become “Founding Members” of our Urbi et Orbi Foundation. We will have a Foundation dinner on December 6 in Washington, D.C. For more information, email me at Editor@InsideTheVatican.com.