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Half of all Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, says Baghdad bishop

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    IRAQ-CHRISTIANS Aug-3-2006 (510 words) With photo. xxxi Half of all Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, says Baghdad bishop By Simon Caldwell Catholic News
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2006
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      IRAQ-CHRISTIANS Aug-3-2006 (510 words) With photo. xxxi

      Half of all Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, says Baghdad bishop

      By Simon Caldwell
      Catholic News Service

      LONDON (CNS) -- Half of all Iraqi Christians have fled their country
      since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said the auxiliary bishop of
      Baghdad.

      Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad said
      that before the invasion there were about 1.2 million Christians in
      the predominantly Shiite Muslim state. Since then the overall number
      has dropped to about 600,000, he said.

      "What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq,"
      the bishop said. "When so many are leaving from a small community
      like ours, you know that it is dangerous -- dangerous for the future
      of the church in Iraq."

      The bishop said 75 percent of Christians from Baghdad had fled the
      capital to escape the almost daily outbreaks of sectarian violence.

      Since the beginning of the war, the number of Chaldean Catholics, who
      make up the country's most numerous Christian denomination, had
      dropped below half a million from 800,000, he said. Many sought new
      lives mostly in the neighboring countries of Syria, Jordan and
      Turkey, he added.

      Bishop Abouna said he thought it was unlikely that many of those who
      had emigrated would return.

      Bishop Abouna spoke Aug. 1 from Iraq with Aid to the Church in Need
      UK, a Catholic charity that supports the Chaldean Catholic community
      in Iraq. Since he became the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Bishop
      Abouna has regularly updated the charity on the community's
      situation.

      About 97 percent of the country's total 27 million Iraqis are Shiite
      and Sunni Muslims; Christians make up the majority of the remaining 3
      percent. The Chaldean Catholics speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

      Christians were not being targeted by terrorists any more than other
      groups, said Bishop Abouna, but the faithful nonetheless felt
      especially isolated and vulnerable as their numbers dwindled.

      He added that many Christians remaining in Iraq were either too poor,
      old or sick to leave. Priests and religious were also experiencing
      continuing difficulties in trying to minister to them, he said.

      "It is not easy for them (the priests)," the bishop said. "When they
      want to travel to other parts of Baghdad, they have to be very
      careful.

      "They are doing their best to contact the families and bring them to
      church," he said.

      Many people were unnerved by the lack of security and confidence in
      the political process that was supposed to usher in a new era of
      peace, democracy and rule of law following the removal of President
      Saddam Hussein by coalition forces, Bishop Abouna said.

      "The constitution and the political developments of the past 18
      months or so have not helped at all," the bishop said. "It is just a
      theory.

      "Everyone is asking: when will the violence stop? They want to rest.
      They cannot live like this -- every day there are these terrible
      things," said Bishop Abouna.

      He said the only thing keeping people going was hope because "the
      country is rich but lacking stability. Once the stability returns,
      the country will rise up again."

      END


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      Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/USCCB.
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