In Iraq, Little Churches to be Born

Gustave Dore (1832-1883), The Christian Martyrs, Oil on Canvas
Gustave Dore (1832-1883), The Christian Martyrs, Oil on Canvas.

Writing in the 2nd century, Tertullian once famously said that the blood of martyrs if the seed of the Church. If this is true, then the consequences of this are even more acutely felt today in the 20th century, where .

Earlier in June of this year, on the Feast of the First Roman martyrs, Pope Francis gave a homily and spoke of this tragic reality occurring in our day:

There are more witnesses, more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries. So during this Mass, remembering our glorious ancestors, let us think also to our brothers who are persecuted, who suffer and who, with their blood are nurturing the seed of so many little Churches that are born. Let us pray for them….

One need not read the news too long to confirm that Christians are, indeed, facing grave threats around the world:

Boko Haram continues daily their murderous attacks and kidnapping of Nigeria’s Christians. Coptic Christians are recovering shattered livelihoods after the spate of attacks thrust upon them during the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. Syrian Christians remain caught in the midst of a civil war going on three years now, with the rebels growing more radicalized each day. There are countless other examples in Sudan, in Pakistan, in Kenya, and more.

Most recently, and what prompted my reflection, was the precarious state of Christians in Iraq. It was earlier last week when Islamic State fighters (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS) forced Christians in Mosul, part of their newly formed Caliphate, to either leave the city, pay a crushing tax known as the jizya, or convert to Islam. Otherwise they would face immediate execution.

Up to last week, that greatest attack the Iraqi church suffered was in 2010, when jihadists massacred worshippers at the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad attending Sunday Mass. Apparently, that was only the start. The events in Mosul are another anguished chapter in the history of Christians in modern Iraq. No Christian in the West can hear of these stories and not be heartbroken.

Before the war in 2003, there was once an estimated 1.5 million Christians in that country; now that number has dwindled down to 400,000. It may be that we will come to see the Chaldean Catholic Church, which has been there since ancient times, extinguished in our lifetime. Although many Christians have been martyred, an even greater number more have simply emigrated to other lands for safety, with a large Iraqi Christian community now living in the United States.

Hearing all of this news, what can we do? What can be done in the face of such carnage? I am reminded of what St. Paul writes, “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).

Certainly, the first thing must be to pray.  Far too often, I have taken it for granted that I can read scripture, pray, and worship in peace. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot. As I write this piece on Saturday night, I am reminded that tomorrow morning we will celebrate Mass. This week has reminded me of the precious gift that we have. As Pope Francis encouraged us, we can be present with our brothers and sisters in that way and entrust them to God.

Secondly, in the short-term, we can donate money, volunteer, or organize fundraisers for groups like Caritas Internationalis, Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Charities, and other groups who are already helping Iraqi Christian refugees. Join me in giving something, even if it is little, or add to your normal tithe. Anything would help and, if enough of us do it, that will make a difference!

Finally, in the longer term, Christians must advocate for countries to respect the right of religious freedom and develop frameworks for a healthy interaction between faith and reason, governance and freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the right to exercise religious freedom is an “inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person” which must be “recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order” (See CCC #1738).

If we are successful, we will realize why the right to religious liberty is the highest right that we have. Properly understood, this is because every other good and human right is ordered to enabling us to fulfill that which we were ultimately made for: to seek God, to worship him in spirit and truth, and to attain the blessedness of heaven.

We can all do these three things in some capacity or another. Let us not grow discouraged when faced with the immensity of this task. Our Lord reminds us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). We can also remember the examples of the faithful ones who have gone before us in ages past and who give themselves for the faith even now.

To end, let us meditate upon these words from a recent Mass reading:

But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
That the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
Perplexed, but not driven to despair;
Persecuted, but not abandoned;
Struck down, but not destroyed;
Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
So that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
-2 Corinthians 4: 7-11

As we do this, in the words of our Holy Father, let us also do so with them in our hearts: “[O]ur brothers and sisters who are persecuted, who suffer and who, with their blood are nurturing the seed of so many little Churches that are born.” Our Lady of Salvation, pray for us!

Rachana Chhin

Rachana Chhin

Rachana Chhin is a 25-year-old Catholic convert (via Buddhism and Evangelical Christianity) from Houston, Texas. He received his Bachelors degree from Baylor University where he studied International Affairs and the Great Books. He is now pursuing a Juris Doctorate and Masters in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. In his down time, he enjoys reading, listening to classical and folk music, and playing strategy games on his computer.

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7 thoughts on “In Iraq, Little Churches to be Born”

  1. ” Finally, in the longer term, Christians must advocate for countries to respect
    the right of religious freedom and develop frameworks for a healthy interaction between faith and reason, governance and freedom. ”
    No, finally we should execute a just war and wipe these savages out. Jesus understood the need for armies. Only might can make right when dealing with pure evil. Don’t ever underestimate the need for war when innocents are being masacred for sport.

    1. James, thank you for commenting on my piece!

      As sympathetic to the idea of finding a quick solution, I am not sure if war is a sustainable or lasting answer to the tragedy of Christian persecution in the Middle East. Yes, Church teaching does allow for just war and strikes against ISIS might slow down their barbarism for a period.

      Indeed, those more knowledgeable than I would probably be able to comment on whether and under what conditions such a just war might be allowable. But the point of my piece was not to primarily advocate for war and violence. Rather, it was to point out what we can do now: we cannot discount the value of prayer, of charity, of advocacy.

      Ultimately, I think the Islamic world has to come to terms with the radicals themselves. What we are seeing in Iraq right now is an internecine Shiite/Sunni conflict that has been simmering for centuries. Christians and other religious minorities are caught in the middle of it, sadly enough.

      As Pope Benedict XVI challenged in his Regensburg address, the Islamic world needs to determine what place reason and science, divine and human will, religious pluralism, and political freedoms will have in their contemporary societies. Until they do that, there can be no civilizational or inter-religious rapprochement.

      As recent history has shown us, the bloodshed will continue no matter how many bombs we drop, troops we send, or military aid shipped to regional governments. Therefore, what we must do is encourage a deeper reconciliation that goes beyond a bandage upon the wound. Yes, this is easier said than done, but what is the alternative?

      1. Of course, you’re right. It just felt good to vent what the civilized world feels. Having spent an inordinate amount of time in Vietnam which, was anything but a just war, I hope prayers have an effect
        but something tells me (and I am very familiar with the history)
        this struggle for religious peace will need to be met with outrage
        and acted upon before we ” … melt with ruth.”

      2. I don’t know. Prior to the crusades, Catholics thought that they could negotiate with Islam. When Islam would take over yet another country, Christians would move north once again (or convert). Finally they sacked Vienna and were at the gates of Paris, having already overtaken much of Spain and southern Europe. Then the Crusades were started. We were able to drive the Muslims back into the middle east and create the Western civilization.

        I doubt that any country and in fact most Christians today would be willing to fight for their faith as the members of ISIS do. We have become soft in the last century. Too many stupid wars over even more stupid reasons. But we can see that Islam makes Hitler look like a kind man in war. (Yes he killed millions of Jews and millions of Catholics but he didn’t do it in the context of war.) He treated war prisoners relatively well and didn’t destroy historic artifacts, art, etc as he conquered new countries. Not so with ISIS, they are destroying historical building and religious tombs that are thousands of years old, not only those of Christians but even other Islamic sects.

        The recent war against Iraq was not a religious war but another war about power and oil.

        Honestly, I just don’t know what the answer is. All the peaceful means used in Africa, the middle East, Asia have not worked. If it wasn’t for the protection and support Israel has, the Muslims would kill every Jew and Christian in that country. It is a stated goal to destroy it at any cost as we can see with Hamas today.

  2. Pingback: The Mark of a Christian Today -


    What is happening in Iraq are the unintended consequences of invading a country with no plans as to what to do with that country after conquering it. The Kurds of Iraq have been working on establishing their own independent nation despite vigorous opposition from both the Bush and Obama administrations. The Assyrian Chaldean Christians of Iraq have also been attempting to establish their own autonomous region or independent nation in the region east of the Tigris River-their traditional homeland. Again, no support from the US government. The US government supports ISIS and the Shiite Arab militias by default by refusing to support the Kurdish and Christian peoples of Iraq in their attempt to establish their own nations where they would be free from persecution and genocide.

  4. A couple of thoughts; RachanaC, thank you for the article. You said,”Yes, this is easier said than done, but what is the alternative?” I have an idea on what can be done and am hopeful others can make it better. First, God has to solve the problem, we just have to work to be conduits of His peace through His means. Thinking of Jesus praying for each and every sinner as He suffered and died on the Cross, He was praying for His solution. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches at 2741, ” Jesus also prays for us – in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father.32 If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts.” Let us resolutely unite our prayer with the prayer of Jesus, trusting that He will give us what we need, even though we do not deserve such a blessing.

    What could the result be if Christians spread the following questions around the internet asking if all ministers of all faiths should be asked to answer them publicly, explicitly so that all would know if they were working with God’s peace plan to turn the whole world right side up, to the one Faith He wants, through peaceful means or against it?
    A verifiable fact and 3 questions:
    There are people who can imagine a God infinitely good and powerful enough to turn the whole blessed world right side up by peaceful means, to the One Faith He wants all to have, without violating anyone’s freewill and therefore either they have imagined a greater good than the infinite goodness of God or they are correct and that is what God must be doing.

    a. Is your God infinitely good and powerful enough to turn the whole blessed world right side up, to the one Faith He wants all to have, by peaceful means without violating anyone’s free will?

    b. Is it possible for someone to imagine a greater good than the infinite goodness of God? c. Is there a third option?
    Another idea as to what can be done:
    What could be the effect if some churches put up a poster similar to the following and publicly asked all ministers of other churches to explain why they do not put up similar posters in their churches in the sure faith that God will lead all to the one Faith He wants all to have?
    “All truly good parents are seen wanting to pray ever more perfectly and committing themselves to a lifelong effort at being open to all Truth from God, through anyone, and eagerly working to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe and therefore these parents, in order to share them with others but especially with their children, are looking for the best verifiable information and GOD’S ANSWER to the best sequences of questions from ministers of all faiths who are eager to share such in the sure faith that God’s answers for these questions will lead all, by peaceful means, to the one Faith God must will all to have and for them to thereby reject all man made additions to this Faith. There are many in this church eager to help anyone start or continue in this lifelong search for Truth and to help any who now seek to find everything God wants everyone to know and believe, one step, one question at a time.”

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