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BISHOP BILL WRIGHT
It is a ver y troubled world. The long-
r unning conflicts in South Sudan and
Somalia continue . There’s conflict in
Ukraine and terror in Nigeria. And of
course there’s war in Syria and Iraq, to
say nothing of so many other scenes
of violence great and small. Millions of
people are displaced from their homes
all over the world. With so much of
humanity suffering, I have had to ask
myself ‘Is it decent to single out and write
about one group? ’, especially if they are
people to whom I am bound by a shared
faith. We Christians must care about
ever yone, after all, not just our Christian
brothers and sisters. But one must not
just be quiet, either. The Christians of
the Middle East are suffering religious
persecution on a terrible scale.
The new bishops in Australia last year
came home from their bishops’ school
in Rome with a searing memor y. One
of their fellow par ticipants was a bishop
from Ir aq, chosen to replace a bishop
who had been gunned down outside his
cathedral. He had escaped through Syria
and Lebanon to get to Rome, but he was
also going back. He would land secretly in
Lebanon again and go cross-countr y. His
mission, as he described it, was to go back
and die for his people. You can perhaps
imagine the silence in which the whole
Australian hierarchy listened to that story.
In December, a par ty of seven bishops
from Australia made their way to Iraq.
Along with the three bishops of the
Eastern Catholic dioceses of Australia
there were the archbishops of Canberra-
Goulburn and Hobar t and two other
bishops of other Easter n Christians
in Australia. They were the first such
delegation of bishops from the West
to make the trip. They visited church
leaders in Beirut and a vast tent-city
camp of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but
most notably they visited the Chaldean
Catholic diocese of Erbil in the Kurdish-
held par t of Iraq.
Erbil is one of the centres for Christians
fleeing ISIS. When ISIS took over the
major city of Mosul, the local Christians
were offered the choice of conver sion
to Islam, a crippling tax, or death. Some
120,000 of them fled, mostly to Kurdish
territory, 50,000 of them to Erbil. Our
Australian bishops had gone with about
US$300,000 from church collections
in Australia, but that was a drop in the
bucket. The Bishop of Erbil has since
repor ted that it was distributed to some
850 refugee families, at about US$270
each, for immediate needs like food,
clothing and materials to make their tents
or shacks slightly better. O n the other
hand , Archbishop Por teous of Hobar t
repor ts that wherever they went the
most significant thing to the people was
that they were from the outside world,
evidence to the Eastern Christians that
they were not simply forgotten . He also,
of course, told some of the harrowing
stories of, for example, children he met
who had seen their parents killed in
The great fear of the Eastern Christians,
however, is not for their ow n lives alone.
They fear that their churches will be
altogether driven out and destroyed.
In the words of Bishop Rober t Rabbat,
Sydney-based Eparch of the Melkite
Catholics in Australia, " It is the stated
intention of the Islamist fundamentalists
to cleanse the Middle East of ever y
trace of Christianity and all reminders of
pre-Islamic histor y. It would seem that
the present situation can only become
worse". In 1993, there were about a
million Christians in Iraq. By 2014 they
were reduced to about 200,000. Yet
these lands were flourishing Christian
centres back when the Romans still
controlled Britain. They have sur vived all
the tides of history until today. But they
may not last much longer. That is the
While reading this, you may be asking
yourself ‘What can I do?’. The first
answer is, you can pray. Given the scale of
the tragedy, indeed, prayer is probably the
only really practical route to a solution.
When it comes to giving financial aid, the
situation is a bit frustrating. Caritas has an
online appeal for the humanit arian crisis
in Syria and Lebanon, but assistance to
the Eastern Churches is not so organised.
Bishop Rabbat, mentioned earlier, is
President of the Confere nce of Bishops of
the Middle Eastern Apostolic Churches
in Australia and the organiser of a joint
committee between that body and the
Catholic Bishops Conference . His contact
details can be found at melkite.org.au .
Otherwise, look out for the next appeal
at your church and, mea nwhile, do a bit of
research and then write to your member
of parliament or the press, drawing
attention to the fact that what is in train
is not just a foreign war but a religious
persecution on a massive scale.
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