Arch. Sako of Kirkuk: Attack will not stop our work for peace and harmony among religions

Arch. Sako of Kirkuk: Attack will not stop our work for peace and harmony among religions

2011-08-02 Vatican Radio

A car bomb outside a Syro-Catholic church wounded 23 people on Tuesday morning, police said, as security forces found and disabled vehicles packed with explosives outside two other parishes in northern Iraq.

The assault began when the car blew up outside the Holy Family Church, severely damaging the church and nearby houses. Parish priest Fr. Imad Yalda, was the only person inside at the time of the blast and was wounded. The 22 other wounded were people whose nearby homes were hit by the blast. Following the blast at the Syro- Catholic church, police discovered two more car bombs parked outside the Christian Anglican church and the Mar Gourgis church, both in downtown Kirkuk.

Emer McCarthy spoke to Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk: “It’s unbelievable, at 5.30 local time a car bomb was exploded outside this Church which is in a very poor neighbourhood of our city, houses and shops were destroyed and many people were hurt. I was shocked, I visited the neighborhood 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”.

“The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail,” Fr. Haithem Akram, told AP. “We are staying in our country. The Iraqi Christians are easy targets because they do not have militias to protect them. The terrorists want to terrorize us, but they will fail.”

The bombing and the two averted attacks in the northern city of Kirkuk signal continued violence against Iraqi Christians, nearly 1 million of whom have fled since the war began in 2003.

This is an unusual attack for Kirkuk – often seen as a haven of relative security for many Christians fleeing the rampant sectarian violence of Mosul and Baghdad. The Christians of the city and their leaders – Archbishop Sako at the forefront – are renowned for their work and efforts to promote inter-religious harmony and peace. Emer McCarthy asked him whether this marked a worrying trend in relations:

“We were not expecting such actions against Christians,. But I think that this is political also, security is still not the best. 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 ethnically and religiously mixed city of Kirkuk is located 290 kilometers north of Baghdad. Sunni extremists often target Christians who are seen as unbelievers. Violence against Christians stepped up late last year, climaxing in the Oct. 31 siege of a Catholic cathedral in downtown Baghdad that left 68 dead and scored wounded when al-Qaida suicide bombers held worshippers hostage for hours before detonating their explosives belts.

Since then, Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Congress have pleaded for Iraq’s government to do more to protect Christians in Iraq. A US State Department report says Christian leaders estimate that 400,000 to 600,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from a prewar level of as high as 1.4 million by some estimates. Listen:


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