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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 6, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 19Oakland, CA

Rice asked to help halt persecution of Iraqi Christians

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy, has asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “take several specific measures” to reverse the growing persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

In a letter to Rice, Bishop Wenski said the bishops feel “deep concern and growing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.”

Among steps he urged the U.S. government to consider are the creation of a new administrative region in the Plain of Nineveh area, where many Iraqi Christians live, and the adoption of a “more generous refugee and asylum policy” to assist displaced Iraqi Christians.

Bishop Wenski said he was writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which released the text of his letter Oct. 30.

“The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and interreligious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty,” Bishop Wenski wrote.

Because of violence and the threat of violence, he said, “Christians continue to decline from a prewar population of over 1.2 million to a current estimate of about 600,000.”

“The recent beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul, the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the frequent
kidnappings for ransom of Christians including four priests -- one of whom was the secretary of (Chaldean Catholic) Patriarch (Emmanuel III) Delly -- the rape of Christian women and teenage girls, and the bombings of churches are all indicators that the situation has reached a crisis point,” he wrote.

Bishop Wenski noted that while Christians represent only 4 percent of Iraq’s population, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 44 percent of Iraqi refugees are Christian.

“The vulnerability of Christians and other religious minorities is dramatic evidence of the growing security challenges facing the entire nation of Iraq,” he said.

In calling for a separate administrative region in the area of the Plain of Nineveh, Bishop Wenski reflected the views of a number of analysts who believe such a solution would offer Christians a more secure framework.

“This could provide Christians and other minorities with greater safety and offer more opportunity to control their own affairs with assistance from the central government,” he wrote.

He also urged the U.S. government to work with Kurdish authorities who control areas of northern Iraq where many Christians are fleeing.

Bishop Wenski called for “an urgent review of economic reconstruction aid programs” to assure that aid is distributed fairly to all sectors of Iraqi society.

He asked Rice to work with the governments of Turkey, Jordan and Syria to assist Iraqi Christians who have fled to those countries.

An Iraqi Catholic prays during a Good Friday service at the Virgin Mary Church in Baghdad.


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