Aid to the Church in Need spokesperson Marie Claude Lalonde, right, speaks with Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine. Lalonde says that in 60 per cent of countries around the world, religious liberty is compromised. Photo by Alan Hustak

Christianity's survival in Mideast highly unlikely

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • January 23, 2015

MONTREAL - The long-term survival of Christianity in the Middle East is threatened and “humanity in the region where Christianity was born will not be the same without it,” a spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need told a seminar in Montreal this week.

Marie Claude Lalonde, the Canadian representative of the global Roman Catholic charitable organization that assists Christians persecuted for their faith in a number of countries, said she was not optimistic about the future of the Christian faith in the region, especially in Syria and in Iraq.

“Religious liberty is compromised in nearly 60 per cent of the countries around the world which should send a clear message to all concerned that we can no longer ignore this situation,” she said.

Christians who are displaced from their homelands and seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey often find themselves in conditions that are almost as difficult as those they were attempting to escape, Lalonde added. In Iraq, for example, she said, Christians are marginalized and treated like strangers. Lalonde read a letter from one Catholic priest in Ninevah, a province in Northern Iraq, who claimed “the blood of martyrs flows unceasingly. Bishops, priests and lay people are murdered because they refuse to renounce their faith.”

Priests, he writes, are prohibited from saying Mass because of the presence of the Islamic State (ISIS).  

“My dear church is profaned at the hands of jihadists. The crucifixes in our churches in Mosul (the largest city controlled by the ISIS), the sign of our faith, have been broken at their hands.” According to the priest, Christians displaced in the past month are forced to survive in public parks, in tents and in parish schools.

“Our babies, our children and our seniors, handicapped and ill have lost their dignity.” Even worse, he adds, Christians are being kidnapped and held for ransom of more than $100,000 (U.S.)

“Unfortunately, for a Christian in Muslim countries there is no protection, and no one who can afford to pay such a ransom.”

About 100 people, including Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine, attended the information meeting which was called to analyse the results of the latest Religious Freedom Report which found that religious freedom is curtailed in more than half of the world’s 196 countries. The report lists 16 countries in which religious minorities are persecuted by Muslim extremists: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In Syria alone there are an estimated 1.7 million Christians — about half of them are Chaldean Catholics who are in communion with Rome. Roman Catholics represent about two per cent of the population, or about 300,000. Ten years ago, there were twice that number.

“We are regressing, we are going backwards, not forward,” said Dr. Catherine Elian, who fled the country two years ago.

“In my city Aleppo, in this beautiful city, we never had a problem. We all lived together, Christian and Muslim alike. When the conflict began in Iraq Christians fled and we welcomed them. Then the Free Syrian Army seized the city, the riots happened, they cut the electricity and we had no idea of what was happening to us.  We never imagined it could happen to us.”

Questions about the federal government’s stance on the catastrophic situation, the role of Canada’s ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett, on the situation and the effect of Israel’s bombardment of Syria on the crisis were politely defused.

“Those are political questions.  That is all politics.  I am not a politician, I work for the Church.” said Lalonde.

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)

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