Since 2003, an immense tragedy has befallen the Iraqi Christians. In 2000, Chaldeans, Syro-Catholics, Syro-Orthodox, Assyrians from the East, Catholic and Orthodox Armenians, and Greek-Melkites together numbered 1.5 million. Today, perhaps 500,000 remain. Hundreds of thousands have found sanctuary in Syria and Jordan, tens of thousands in Egypt and Lebanon. Among the refugees are many of Iraq's professionals -- doctors and teachers who could have helped build a better future for all in Iraq.
The region around Mosul and Nineveh, writes Magister, is the "cradle of Christianity in Iraq. There are churches and monasteries that go back to the earliest centuries. ... Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is used in the liturgies."
As the war has dragged on, life has become hellish for the remaining Christians. Yet they have never resorted to bombings or assassinations.
Father Ragheed is neither the first nor last of the Iraqi martyrs.
After Pope Benedict gave his speech in Regensburg, Germany, touching on Islam, Father Paulos Iskander was kidnapped and beheaded in retaliation by the "Lions of Islam." Father Joseph Petros was murdered. A Catholic nun told the Vatican news agency: "The imams preach in the mosques that it is not a crime to kill Christians. It is a hunting of men."
In May, St. George's Assyrian Church in the Dora neighborhood, a Christian enclave of Baghdad, was burned down, destroying what had survived a firebombing in 2004. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports it was the 27th church destroyed by Muslim gangs since the liberation of Iraq. Now the ancient practice of the jizya -- the "head tax" Muslims have traditionally imposed on Christians, Jews and religious minorities -- is being reinstituted. According to AINA, "Al-Qaida is demanding that Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around $200) for the right to remain in their own homes, a sum equivalent to an average month's salary in Iraq." All this, and the news of Father Ragheed's murder, moved Benedict XVI to raise the issue with President Bush. For when Bush left the Vatican, he told reporters: "He (the pope) is worrisome about the Christians inside Iraq being mistreated by the Muslim majority. ... He was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion." For the martyrdom of Christianity in its birth cradle, blame must fall heavily upon the men who conceived this misbegotten war.