Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Iraq’s Christian Population Halved Since 2003

Christian Today >Iraq’s Christian Population Halved Since 2003.

The auxiliary bishop of Baghdad has expressed alarm at the huge drop in Christians in Iraq as he warned that the Christian population in the country has halved since the US-led invasion in 2003.

"What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq," said Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad in Catholic newspaper The Universe.

He estimates that the community of around 1.2 million Christians prior to the 2003 invasion has dropped to around just 600,000 today.

"When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous - dangerous for the future of the church in Iraq."

According to Bishop Abouna, around 75 per cent of Christians in Baghdad had fled the Iraqi capital to escape the daily chaos and outbreaks of sectarian violence.

He said that the number of Chaldean Catholics – the largest Christian denomination in Iraq – had dropped from 800,000 to below half a million as they fled the country in search of new lives in Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

Many of the Christians now remaining in Iraq were those too poor, old or sick to leave, he said, adding that even priests and religious leaders were finding it difficult to continue ministering to them.

"It is not easy for them (the priests)," the bishop said.

"When they want to travel to other parts of Baghdad, they have to be very careful. They are doing their best to contact the families and bring them to church.”

Bishop Abouna expressed the desire of Christians in Iraq for an end to be found to the violence.

"The constitution and the political developments of the past 18 months or so have not helped at all. Everyone is asking: when will the violence stop? They want to rest. They cannot live like this - every day there are these terrible things.”

The only thing keeping people going is hope, said Bishop Abouna, because "the country is rich but lacking stability”.

“Once the stability returns, the country will rise up again,” he said.