Christians respond to church bombings in Iraq
Middle Eastern church leaders have condemned attacks on Iraqi churches and called for solidarity following bombings at churches yesterday.
According to some news reports, at least 11 people were killed and dozens injured as bombs exploded at four churches - two of them Syrian and two, Armenian Orthodox - and a monastery.
Two churches in the Karada District in central Baghdad were bombed. Local reports there said that two or four people were killed and several injured when a car bomb exploded outside the Syrian Catholic Church. The reports also said that several people were injured in a similar car bomb attack on the nearby Armenian Catholic Church. Two churches in the Al Dura suburb of southern Baghdad, and a church in Mosul in northern Iraq, were apparently attacked at the same time. The attacks mark the first time Iraqi churches have been targeted in this way.
Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq, Sheila Provencher and Greg Rollins, were worshipping at St Raphael's Catholic Church when the first bomb exploded at 6:25 pm at the Armenian church about a quarter mile away from them. At that moment in the service, there had been a time of silence, and the priest then continued with the next words of the regular liturgy, "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."
Two other CPT members Peggy Gish and Doug Pritchard were worshipping at St Yousef's Chaldean Church in the same neighbourhood as the Armenian and Syrian churches. Gish said, "When I heard the first explosion, I wondered if it was
an attack on a church, and I prayed immediately for whoever might have been involved." As people were leaving the service at 6:50 pm, the second blast occurred at the Syrian church three blocks away. Parishioners were quickly hurried out of the area by the Chaldean church's security staff who then blocked off the road.
While walking away from the church, Gish and Pritchard asked worried residents for details. One family pulled them inside their home and shared their recent experiences.
The young woman of the family wept and said, "My father was killed recently because he sold alcohol. Because of that, I was too afraid to go to my church today. Now it has been bombed. I don't know if my friends there are alive or dead. Saddam was a killer. Now there are many Saddams."
Speaking today at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order plenary commission meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, bishop Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of Cilicia) said: "This is the first time Christian churches have been targeted. We condemn this attack and we are very concerned about it."
Metropolitan Dr Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, urged Christians and Muslims to work together for peace. "Solidarity is very important, both inside and outside the region, both among Christians and between Christians and Muslims," he said.
Gregorios stressed that "the WCC and others should encourage anything that brings Christians and Muslims together, not only in theological dialogue but also in the dialogue of life and work."
"I address my appeal to the Arab world, which can support any plan for peace, and also to the Iraqi people themselves - if they are not in solidarity, how then can they solve these problems?" he asked.
Alemezian called on international and local people to work for peace. "This is not just a problem for Syrians and Armenians," he said. "The situation in Iraq is not isolated. It is related to the general political situation in the world.
"We have a conflict, and we have to solve it - the US, the UN, all parties involved in the creation of this situation, but also local people and faith communities."
Both leaders stressed the good relations between Christians and Muslims in Iraq prior to the bombings.
"Christians are an integral part of the society they are living in, they are not newcomers, they are not there for any superficial reason," said Alemezian. "Middle Eastern Christians are the people of the land where Christ was born," he added.
They both stressed the dangers posed by pressure on the nearly 1million Iraqi Christians leading to increased emigration.
"The diminishing number of Christians in Iraq is a terrible thing," said Gregorios. "The same picture is replicated in other countries like Turkey, Iran, and Palestine. We are losing our people."
Could a situation arise, they said, where there were no Christians in the Middle East and no Muslims in the West? This would be "dangerous for everybody," said Metropolitan Gregorios. "This is very important. It's not good for humanity."
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for these coordinated attacks.