Iraqi Christians are among the most persecuted religious groups in the world. Since 2003, the Muslim-majority country’s Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million to an estimated 275,000.
Open Doors cites “Islamic oppression” as the main source of persecution for Iraqi Christians. The radical terrorist group ISIS is responsible for the killing of thousands of Christians and the destruction of countless Christian artifacts and monuments.
But recently, a Catholic organization based in France sent 15 statues of the Virgin Mary to Iraq to replace ones destroyed by ISIS, the Catholic Herald reported.
This contribution is much more important than it would seem at first glance. Christians in Iraq are contemplating whether or not to even bother coming back to live in their homeland. If there is no help in rebuilding what has been destroyed, they will be less incentivized to stay and it could lead to Christians leaving Iraq for good.
The group, Œuvre d’Orient, focuses its efforts on aiding persecuted Christians in the Middle East. According to the Catholic Herald, the French charity sent the statues from Lourdes to Ankawa, a suburb of the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the majority of residents are Catholic.
Once the statues arrive, Chaldean and Syriac Catholics will carry them in a procession through the town. The statues will then be blessed and sent to various parishes throughout Iraq.
Œuvre d’Orient have made Jeremiah 31:17 the focus of these processions. The verse reads: “And here is hope for thy last end, saith the Lord: and the children shall return to their own borders.”
Though ISIS continues to lose territory in Iraq, many Christians who have been displaced since the group’s 2014 occupation of the country remain vulnerable.
Back in March, a senior aid worker described the Chaldean Catholic population in northern Iraq as “on the verge of extinction” and in desperate need of help from the West.
Speaking to Catholic Herald, Stephen Rasche, legal counsel and head of resettlement programs for the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil, said: “The future really does hang in the balance,” adding, “History could look back on this and say ‘in their time of greatest need, they didn’t get the support and the community disappeared.’ That could happen. We need to be honest about that.”
(H/T: Catholic Herald)