Half of Iraq's Christians Have Fled, Says Prelate
Church Aiding 35,000 Refugees in Syria
BAGHDAD, Iraq, DEC. 21, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The violence in Iraq has prompted half of the country's Christians to emigrate, says an official of the Chaldean patriarchate of Baghdad.
Auxiliary Bishop Andraos Abouna explained to the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) the work that ecclesial leaders are carrying out to shelter the more than 35,000 Christians who have sought refuge in Syria.
The Church is helping to provide shelter, food and medical support for these and other refugees. Benedict XVI appealed for aid for these refugees last Sunday.
ACN has offered emergency aid to Christians desperate to flee the religious conflict and the dire poverty engulfing Iraq.
The charity is working closely with Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, who launched a humanitarian aid program for refugees, especially in the capital, Damascus. The project includes food parcels and funding for emergency hospital operations.
Bishop Abouna said: "There is a big need to help the people and we are doing whatever we can. We are very grateful to Aid to the Church in Need for all its help."
The 63-year-old bishop underlined the increasing dangers for Christians still in Iraq. He said the refugees in Syria had reported how Christians and others had received death threats and how women, including girls, were being forced to wear the veil in keeping with Islamic law.
Up to a dozen churches, monasteries and other church buildings in the Al Dora district of Baghdad have been forced to close, Bishop Abouna said.
Islamists bent on ethnic cleansing have flushed Christians out of Al Dora, formerly known as "the Vatican of Iraq," he reported.
"Of course the people are frightened," the prelate added. "But there is something stronger than the fear -- it is their faith."