CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 25 March 2017

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Invasion has decimated Iraq's Christian population

ROME (Agencies): Archbishop Timothy Broglio, of the military vicariate of the United States of America (US), called the collapse of the Christian population in Iraq a direct legacy of the US-led invasion of 2003.

Speaking in Rome on January 16, CNA reported him as saying, “Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country. And what the future holds, that still remains to be seen.”

The Catholic population of Iraq has fallen from over 800,000 in 2003 to less than 150,000 today.

Archbishop Broglio believes Catholicism suffered after the invasion, because it was seen as being close to Saddam Hussein, who he described as tending to trust Catholics and giving them positions of responsibility.”

He pointed to the high-profile foreign minister in the Saddam administration, Tarik Aziz, as being a prime example.

However, the military chaplain said that even if Catholics weren’t particularly part of the Saddam regime, they did become identified with it. He said that in Saddam’s day, Catholicism was a protected minority, but now that protection does not exist.

The president of the US, Barack Obama, said on December 15 last year at the time of the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq that his country was leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant country.

However, John Pontifex, from Aid to the Church in Need, disagrees. “At a time of increased political instability, we continue to receive disturbing reports,” he told CNA on January 20, citing an attack earlier in the month against security personnel outside the residence of Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk.

Archbishop Sako described the situation since the US withdrawal as less stable, with much of the turmoil stemming from the power struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

 “Few Christians, no matter how deep their roots are in the local society, feel able to withstand the pressure to leave,” Pontifex commented.

Fear of an attack forced Archbishop Sako to cancel the Chaldean Catholics’ midnight Christmas celebration in December. Services were moved to the daytime and Christians were warned not to display decorations outside their homes. Nevertheless, many of the Catholics who have fled Iraq say that they would happily return if safety levels improved.

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