From The Tablet
Christians flee worst sectarian violence since war
A Catholic archbishop has issued a desperate warning about the persecution of embattled Christians amid Iraq's worst sectarian violence since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk warned that attacks on Christians by radical Islamic groups, previously localised in sectors of cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, had now spread across the country, even into areas previously considered a safe haven for Christians.
"In Iraq Christians are dying, the Church is disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile," said the Chaldean archbishop.
Radical Sunni groups in areas of Baghdad were threatening local Christians with violence unless they paid a jizya, or "donation", towards the insurgency, immediately converted to Islam, or handed over their homes and fled the country, Archbishop Sako said.
He said a recent spate of attacks in traditional Christian areas was a political gesture intended to show that "nowhere is safe".
"We can no longer be silent. We have to remind the world of the importance of the Christian presence in Iraq, for the good of Iraq," the archbishop told AsiaNews on Monday. "Christians are suffering from forced evacuation, rape, kidnap, blackmail, scarring and killing. Forcing Christians to leave their homes destroys the cultural, civil and religious mosaic of which Iraq is considered to be the very cradle."
Bishop Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary in Baghdad, said the capital's Chaldean church of Ss Peter and Paul had received the blunt warning: "Get rid of the cross or we will burn your churches." "In the last two months many churches have been forced to remove their crosses from their domes," the bishop told AsiaNews. Ten of Baghdad's 80 Christian churches have closed since 2003. Fifty thousand Iraqis are fleeing the country each month, according to the UN. While they make up 5 per cent of the population, Christians constitute 40 per cent of those fleeing.