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Iraq's Persecution of Christians Continues to Spiral out of Control
By Sabah Hajjar :: Monday, June 30, 2008 :: 84025 Views :: Article Rating :: Government & Society, World News & Odds 'N' Ends

Baghdad, IRAQ - Senior research fellow, Brian J. Grim, paints a harrowing picture of the ongoing persecution of Iraqi Christians.  The research expert on religion and world affairs with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington, D.C. reports that the situation for Christians in Iraq is worsening. 

“It is no small irony, of course, that the Shiite majority that's now a leading force in Iraq was brutalized and suppressed under Saddam, who extensively curbed the Shiites' religious freedoms. A State Department report in 2002 said Saddam's government ‘severely restricts or bans outright many Shiite religious practices.’ One might think that those fresh memories would be enough to ensure liberties for Iraq's religious minorities today. Yet that appears not to be the case,” writes Grim in his report. 

Iraqi Christians are part of historic indigenous communities that have been in what is now Iraq nearly since the time of Christ, several centuries before Islam came to the region. The majority of them are Chaldean Christians, an ancient religious group affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Grim points out what's particularly devastating for Iraq's religious minorities is the lack of clear legal protections for religious freedom. Although Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees religious freedom, it also contains what some have termed a "repugnancy clause," which states, "No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established." Because the clause does not explicitly state what the "established provisions of Islam" encompass or exclude, this opens the door for the state and the courts to become theological arbiters. As such, there are no formal avenues for religious minorities to participate in the process.

Furthermore, Article 89 of the constitution stipulates that the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court include experts in Islamic jurisprudence, which means that the provision in Article 2 will be supported by a court system with people specifically employed to interpret Islamic law. These people can be appointed without having civil law training.

The nature and extent of the violations of religious freedom were not only severe, they also were tolerated by the government and, in some cases, committed by forces within the government.  As such, a bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included Iraq on a "watch list" of countries where religious liberty is severely threatened.

Religious leaders have made numerous attempts to broker resolutions.  In 2007, American president George W. Bush recounted, the pontiff " was concerned that the society that was evolving (in Iraq) would not tolerate the Christian religion."

Indeed, Iraqi Christians have continued to find themselves in the cross hairs of faith-inspired violence. The worst episodes have occurred in regions with diverse ethnic and religious groups, such as Baghdad and Mosul, where the majority of Iraq's Christians live. The State Department reported last year that Muslim extremists "warned Christians living in Baghdad's Dora district to convert, leave or be killed."

Commission representatives recently visited Iraq. Among other things, they are assessing whether religious freedom is threatened due to possible collusion between Shiite militias and Iraqi government ministries, and whether the country's smallest religious minorities are being marginalized by government officials and parastate militias. If Iraqi government's culpability in violations of religious freedom continues, Iraq would join the likes of Burma, Iran, North Korea and Sudan.

The political and social consequences of this oppression will need to be addressed by the new U.S. administration, whichever party wins the White House in November. An Iraq that truly honors and protects religious freedom would be a benchmark of success that all Americans — and no doubt both parties — would applaud.

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St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  


Rev. Frank Kalabat
 

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.

 

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
 
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.