A special interdenominational service was held at St Columb’s Cathedral on Thursday, to pray for Christians and minority religions suffering persecution in Iraq.
In an emotive address at the service, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Dr William Morton related how Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq were facing “terrible suffering and even death” and a retiring collection was taken up to aid the Christian church in the conflicted Eastern country.
In his address Sean Morton told the congregation: “What we are seeing there brutally violates people’s right to freedom of religion and belief. It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety. The right-thinking world must challenge the culture of impunity which allows these atrocities. That is why we are present at this service: To pray, and to express solidarity with fellow Christians in their utmost need, and to support them by practical means”.
The Service of Reflection and Prayer was a joint initiative between St Columb’s Cathedral and St Columba’s Church, Long Tower and included in-put from the Bishop of Derry, the Most Reverend Dr Donal McKeown, who led the intercessions. Also taking part was Canon John Merrick, Pastoral Assistant at St Columb’s Cathedral.
Referring to the sheer horror of what has been happening in Iraq, Dean Morton mentioned in particular an account on the Anglican Communion News Service web-site which reported that the five-year-old son of a founding member of Baghdad’s Anglican church was cut in half during an attack by the Islamic State on the Christian town of Qaraqosh.
“Canon Andrew White, the only Anglican priest in Iraq, who is the Vicar of Baghdad, had baptised the boy, who had been named after him, several years ago. The boy’s father had been a founder member of the church back in 1998 when the Canon had first come to Baghdad,” he said.
Reading from the report, the Dean said Canon White related how The man, before he retired north to join his family was the caretaker of the Anglican church. Baghdad is part of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, which is included in the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, a member church of the Anglican Communion.
He continued quoting the Canon’s account: “Though the move north should have proved safer for the Iraqi Christian family, the Islamic State made sure that it became a place of terror. This town of Qaraqosh is a Christian village so they knew everybody there was part of their target group. The Islamic State] attacked the whole of the town. They bombed it, they shot at people.
“The Islamic State group captured Qaraqosh overnight on August 6/7 after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces. ISIS, which has been called a ‘brutal, extremist group’ and which claims to have fighters from across the world, announced the creation of a ‘caliphate,’ which is an Islamic state, across its claimed territory in Iraq and Syria a month ago. The boy’s family, along with many other townspeople, has now fled to Irbil. However, news reports suggest this may be the Islamic State’s next destination”.
The Dean said the violent takeover of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State was threatening to bring about what the United Nations called a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
“Canon White said that Anglicans there have been working hard to provide a lot of support for the Christians who have fled Mosul and Nineveh to the north, as well as the many other minority groups targeted by the Islamic State,” said the Dean, adding: “Anglicans are literally at the forefront of bringing help in this situation and there’s no-one else.”
The church is supplying much-needed food, water, accommodation and other relief items thanks to financial contributions from supporters overseas, he said repeating that Canon White had appealed for prayer and money, saying: “With those two we can do something. Without those we can do nothing.”
Dean Morton said that this, and other reports of the horror of what is happening in Iraq, should serve as a reminder of the blessings which we all so often take for granted. That is not the way God wants Christians to treat one another – to ignore, to cast aside, or to exercise complacency. An inactive Christian, someone who simply says ‘That’s dreadful’, but does not do anything to help those in need, is a contradiction in terms. Being a Christian means being active, living out the faith, responding to human need, going not only the second mile but the 22nd mile. Not wanting ‘to get our hands dirty’ is not going to do much for the people we are remembering and supporting.
“It’s time to stand up and be counted. While we sit back, people are being mutilated, beheaded, crucified. They are displaced; they have had to flee.
Christian properties have been sprayed with the letter ‘N’ for Nazarene, indicating followers of Jesus. This terror group, Islamic State (IS), is threatening to invade parts of Europe within the next five years, regardless of land barriers or frontiers, and force people living there to become Muslims, and if they don’t they will die by the sword, or have to pay huge taxes which they could never hope to afford. This has to be totally condemned to the maximum degree as a sin against God and humanity. It is appalling, dreadful.”
Dean Morton went on: “This has got to stop. Canon Andrew White has said that, if this continues, it could reach proportions, in terms of fatalities, next to the Holocaust.”
“I think that in return for all the encouraging and good signs for peace which we enjoy in this wonderful city, we should do something in response to God. I consider that He would wish us to help out our fellow human beings not only by praying for them but also by practical means through sending some money from a retiring collection to help those who suffer.”
Quoting from the Gospel of St Matthew, the Dean echoed the words of Jesus, saying: ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.
“This is the Gospel imperative of our Lord. We can’t ignore it. If we do, we do so at our peril. That account in St Matthew goes on to relate how, in the final judgement, there will be the distinction made between those who responded when the need arose, and those who did not.
“Wouldn’t it be unimaginable, when that day comes, to be considered to have let God down, that, when we are asked for an account of how we responded to the world’s poor and to those in need, we have nothing to show for ourselves?
“Please pray for these people, and, if you can, give what you can afford for their plight, and we will ensure that the money is sent securely and reaches those who will administer it in its totality to those in need,” he said.