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Chaldean Bishop Says Iraqis Returning Home, Despite Conditions

A child holds a bowl of soup inside the Khazer camp on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq, on 29 June. Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod in Erbil, appealed for “courageous dialogue” to pull the embattled country out “from the dark tunnel.” (photo: CNS/Stringer, Reuters) 

01 Jul 2014 – By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Thousands of Iraqi Christians who fled recent shelling by extremist militants and sought refuge in the neighboring autonomous Kurdistan region are now returning home, said a Catholic archbishop responsible for their care.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Matte Warda told Catholic News Service that about “90 percent of the families are returning to the villages of Qaraqosh and Karamlish and environs after they received assurances that the area is once again safe.”

On 28 June, Archbishop Warda expressed grave concern for more than 40,000 Christians that fled the Christian villages outside Mosul.

At the time, most fled with just the clothes on their backs, while some, who were still in their pajamas — a sign of their panic and desperation — narrowly escaped after militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant laid siege to the area.

As violence continued to plague Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis pleaded for international action to promote dialogue, and he urged Catholics to pray particularly for Iraqi Christians forced to flee in late June.

“The news coming from Iraq is very painful, unfortunately,” the pope said on 29 June after reciting the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square. “I join the bishops of the country appealing to government leaders that, through dialogue, national unity could be preserved and war avoided.”

“I am close to the thousands of families, especially Christians, who have had to leave their homes and are in serious danger,” the pope said.

Archbishop Warda told CNS that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assured the Christians that it was safe to return home. The Peshmerga has fought the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and their Sunni Muslim Arab tribesmen trying to gain control of the area.

However, the cleric said that conditions in the region are still “difficult for the Christians because there is no water or electricity.”

He also said that some Christian families have chosen to leave Iraq entirely after this recent crisis, opting to immigrate to neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.

Iraq was thrown back into crisis in mid-June after thousands of armed members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant moved from Syria through much of northern Iraq, killing both Muslims and Christians. On 29 June they proclaimed a “caliphate,” an Islamic state led by a religious leader, across the territories they had captured.

At his early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence on 30 June, Pope Francis again urged prayers for Christians facing persecution, especially in the Middle East.

“There also are Christians chased out in an ‘elegant’ way with white gloves,” he said. “This, too, is persecution.”

Meanwhile, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad pleaded on 30 June with Catholics outside Iraq to be careful accepting without verifying stories claiming the violence is being perpetrated “against Christians in a selective manner. I repeat that up until now, there have been no attacks aimed at those who bear the name of Christ. The Christians are sharing the anguish and suffering with their Muslim brothers and sisters.”

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Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Syriac Catholic Church