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Churches bombed in Iraq

Friday, August 5th, 2011

A car bomb attack on the Catholic church in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Monday injured 23 people.  

The blast outside the Holy Family Syro-Catholic Church was one of three; security forces disabled similar car bombs outside two other Christian churches in the Iraqi city.  "The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail," said local priest, Father Haithem Akram.

The bomb damaged both the church and nearby houses.  The parish priest, Father Imad Yalda, was inside the church at the time and was hurt in the blast.  The other 22 wounded were local residents.  The attack comes at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  Islamic militants are thought to be responsible.

"I was shocked, I visited the neighbourhood and the hospital and many people were crying.  It is sad because this is supposed to be a month of fasting and prayer, to do good things.  We are shocked and really sad," Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Vatican Radio.

The bombing is the latest attack against Christians in Iraq.  Before the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 there were an estimated 1.2million Christians and now there is only one third of that number, around 400,000.  Many have also relocated to northern cities such as Kirkuk and Erbil that are usually regarded as safer due to having larger Christian communities. 

"We were not expecting such actions against Christians.  But I think that this is political also, security is still not the best," said Archbishop Sako. 

"We are trying to bridge relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters.  Many, many people have called me condemning this.  I will ask the imams, the Shia and Sunni imams to speak about this inhuman attack and to condemn it telling people it is against God and against religion."

The attack came on the day that three men were sentenced to death in Baghdad for their role in a church siege last October that killed 68 people.  A fourth man was sentenced to 20 years. 

This spring the Pope spoke of a “strategy of violence that has targeted Christians."  This strategy, said Benedict XVI, "has consequences for the whole population.” 

The violence against Christians takes place in a climate of total insecurity and barbarism of coexistence, the pope said as he encouraged church communities to persevere in faith and witness to non-violence that comes from the Gospel.

Less than one month ago a new church was opened in Iraq, the first since 2003.  The Saint Paul the Apostle church in the village of Sikanayan near Kirkuk (see ciNews July 24 2011) serves a community of about 200 Christian families who have fled from other parts of the country.  Speaking at the inauguration of the church, Archbishop Louis Sako encouraged interfaith dialogue as a means towards peace.  

by Ann Marie Foley (Source CNA )