Messages from the Bishop

Martyrdom in the Middle East

Written by Bishop Henry on Saturday, 09 August 2014

On Monday, 30 June 2014, the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, Pope Francis reminded us that today is still the time of martyrs.

"How is it that this seed of God's word grows and becomes the Kingdom of God, it grows and becomes the Church?" He identified two sources that accomplish this task: the Holy Spirit and Christian testimony or witness. When historical circumstances call for strong witness, there are martyrs - the greatest witnesses! The Church is watered by the blood of martyrs. This is truly "the beauty of martyrdom: it begins with testimony day by day, and may end with blood, like Jesus, the first martyr, the first witness, the faithful witness".

Examining the history of the Church, which grows, guided by the blood of martyrs, Pope Francis encouraged consideration of today's many martyrs. "If in Nero's persecution, there were many, today there are no fewer martyrs, persecuted Christians". The facts are well known and we should think about " the Middle East , about the Christians who must flee from persecution, about the Christians killed by persecutors" .

The week prior to the Feast of the First Martyrs, members of the ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate and began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter :Nun."

"Nun" stands for "Nazara," from "Nazarenes," a word that refers to Christians.

The implications were clear. Christians were offered three choices: convert to Islam; accept the dhimma contract - involving the payment of a poll tax and various strict social and religious restrictions, accepting secondary subserviant status; or the sword. In short, convert, pay or die. Many Christians opted for a fourth 'choice' - to leave.

For the first time in 2,000 years Mosul is devoid of Christians. The religious cleansing is wide ranging. Christians were forced to leave their homes. ISIS took down all the crosses from churches. They blew up the tomb of the prophets Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque and some Christians were crucified, others beheaded.

Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon and the Chaldean, has written an open letter appealing for help: "The Christians of Mosul, horrified, have fled the city with only the clothes on their back. Their churches have been profaned ... As for the church, she finds herself completely alone, more than ever .... We are equally shocked and indignant by the absence of a vigorous position taken by Muslims and their religious leaders, not the least because the actions of these factions represent a menace for the Muslims themselves.

In fact speeches are good for nothing, so too declarations that rehash condemnations and indignation; the same can be said for protest marches. In addition, while appreciating the generosity of donors, we would say that donations and fundraising too will not solve our problems. We have to demand a large scale administrative (governmental) operation on an international level. There is in fact the necessity for a position of conscience to this simply human principle: the demand for real actions and solidarity because we are before a crisis of our very existence, confronting the fact that "we will be or we will not be".

Our suffering brothers and sisters wonder why we don't speak out? Why is the Western media so silent about this crime against humanity? Why are governments, their own and those in the Western world, sitting on their hands? We must do something to express solidarity in heart and action.

Our first response must be, of course, to pray; to raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace to the Middle East.

I would also encourage you to join with Christians and others in urging your Member of Parliament to encourage the Government of Canada to do even more for the Middle East - by providing Canadian emergency and reconstruction assistance, by making it easier for our country to accept refugees, by participating in international efforts to foster justice and peace in the region, and by insisting on respect for freedom of conscience and religion , as well as the rights of all minorities, including religious minorities.

In particular, we need to lobby Minister Chris Alexander to give the same Priority Processing status to Iraqis as he has done for Syrian refugees. Syrian cases are being processed at the Case Processing Office Winnipeg in approximately three weeks while all other applications are currently backlogged. If the government accelerates the process, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society will find sponsors through parishes for Iraqis that don't have relatives in Calgary but have some connection and want to settle here.

Three Canadian Catholic agencies are fundraising for the suffering people of the Middle East. These are CNEWA Canada, CCODP, and Aid to the Church in Need - Canada. Up-to-date reports on the Middle East are provided by Caritas Internationalis o
n their web site at

August 9, 2014

✠ F. B. Henry

Bishop of Calgary

An Iraqi Christian woman prays at a community center in Erbil, June 27, 2014. (Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)









Image: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

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