On Sunday at The Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his fears over the increasing violence in Iraq and said he was following the news "with deep concern." Photo: AFP
BARCELONA, Spain – Rebels who captured Mosul last week have not harmed Christian residents or churches in what is Iraq’s second-largest city, the Vatican’s top envoy in Iraq told Rudaw, adding that everyone waited with fear to see what would happen next.
“The guerrillas who are in control of Mosul have not committed any violent act or damaged the churches there,” said Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Apostolic Nuncio (Pope’s envoy) in Iraq.
“They are allowing priests to go in and out the city to administer the sacraments to the Christians who have stayed back in their homes,” he said in an email to Rudaw.
An axis of Sunni Islamic extremists and loyalists of the ousted Iraqi regime moved in on Mosul Tuesday, since then capturing large parts of the country’s Sunni territories and now near Baghdad where their intended aim is to topple the Shiite-led government.
Lingua said that one of the main problems for the Christian community in Iraq at this moment is the arrival of refugees -- Christian and Muslim -- who have flocked in large numbers from cities and towns to villages on the plains of Nineveh, the northwestern province where Mosul is the capital.
“All the religious males and females have left Mosul and are now in Kramles, Telkaif, Karakosh, Erbil and Bashiqa,” he said, naming villages and towns where the minority Christians have fled.
Both Christians and some Muslims have taken refuge in places run by the church in some towns, such as Alqosh, Lingua said.
“The atmosphere in general is an atmosphere of fear waiting for the situation to evolve. We are afraid that an armed response from the Iraqi military would escalate the violence,” he added.
On Sunday at The Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his fears over the increasing violence in Iraq and said he was following the news "with deep concern."
"I invite all of you to join me in prayer for the dear Iraqi nation, above all for the victims and for those who are suffering the consequences of the growing violence, most especially the many people, including many Christians, who had to leave their homes," he said.
The United Nations estimated that one million Iraqis have become internally displaced because of the recent upsurge in sectarian violence and the recent fall of Mosul, in which the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is reported to be involved.
Louis Sako, patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Christians, told the Vatican's Fides news agency Monday that a church assembly scheduled to be held in Baghdad this month would be held in Ankawa, a Christian district of Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
Friar Kais Mumtaz, a Chaldean priest from Kirkuk, told Fides on Saturday that the situation unfolding in Iraq suggests that "everything seems to be leading toward only a military management" of the crisis.
He said the threat of civil war "scares many Christians even more than the advance of the Islamists: The war makes no distinction between soldiers, terrorists and civilians. It strikes Christians, Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites in the same way."
Iraq’s Christian community, estimated at 800,000 - 1.2 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that unleashed a wave of sectarian violence, has dwindled to less than half that. Many Christians have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region, where there is greater tolerance of other religions.
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani recently met Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the situation of the 30,000 Christians who have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish enclave, which remains the only peaceful and prospering portion of Iraq.
For the Vatican, which is worried that one of the world’s longest continuous Christian communities in the world is vanishing due to violence and emigration across Iraq, the Kurdish safe haven has provided a temporary respite.