Iraqis remain vigilant in wake of increased attacks, Toronto prayer vigil hears

  • November 12, 2010
habash collinsTORONTO - It was a brazen and brutal attack on Iraqi Christians practising their faith, but Syriac Catholic Bishop Yousif Habash, instead of seeking vengeance, preached a message of peace to more than 800 people attending a Remembrance Day service at St. Michael's Cathedral.

The prayer vigil in remembrance of the 58 Christians murdered and 75 injured during an Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad during Sunday Mass was organized by the archdiocese of Toronto and its Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith Affairs.

“They can take our lives away but they cannot take away our faith,” said Habash, the New Jersey-based bishop of Syriac Catholics in Canada and the United States.

“They cannot take Christ out of our past. They cannot take the Resurrection away from us.”

Habash spoke of the “escalation of attacks” against Christians in Iraq over the past decade, the “ongoing genocide” and the continuing resolve of the survivors.

“They cannot take our love for God and for our neighbours away from us. We are not men or women of vengeance or violence,” he said. “We are people of good will and love. Christ taught us to love our neighbour and respect each other and even to love our enemies.”

Habash urged Christians and non-Christians to “come in solidarity.”

“Let all people of good will defend the rights of the innocent,” he said.

Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins spoke of how Canadians can respond to the ongoing violence and persecution of Iraqi Christians.

“We need to assist Christian communities in Iraq and the Middle East to flourish, so that they may live in peace, as is their right, free to practise their faith, and so that as well, they may contribute to the good of everyone, of all faiths,” he said.

“Where Christians have been forced to leave Iraq and are unable to go back, we in this archdiocese, and in many other religious communities, stand ready to help them to find a refuge here.”

In recent years, the archdiocese of Toronto has been increasing its efforts to assist refugees through ORAT, the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto. Collins set a goal of doubling the number of refugees sponsored by parishes and religious communities in the archdiocese last year, and has been personally sponsoring a refugee family.

More than 20 Christian church leaders also attended, including Toronto Catholic Auxiliary Bishop William McGrattan, Rev. Estephanos Issa of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Hanna Zorra of the Chaldean Catholic community in Toronto, Rev. Philip Hobson from the Anglican Church of Canada and Rev. Herb Gale, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Farah Rassan was one of several parishioners from St. Joseph Syriac Catholic Church in Mississauga, Ont., who attended the vigil. Rassan and her husband prayed and wept silently after the vigil. Rassan's cousin was injured in the attack and a friend lost her husband, son and aunt.

“We have a great faith and our faith started to grow stronger and stronger,” said Rassan, a 40-year-old dentist originally from Baghdad.

“We just wanted to make sure that the whole world will lift their voices with us and pray for our community. We pray for the whole world, for peace and mercy.”

Alessandro Mengozzi is visiting Toronto from Italy and attended the vigil.

“It's important to stop for a moment to think about what happened and pray for our Church there,” said Mengozzi, 40, a researcher at the University of Turin.

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