Iraqi Bishops Ask for Help Protecting their Flock

Members of Michigan's Chaldean community, who are Iraqi Catholics, rally in Detroit Monday, Nov. 8, 2010. The rally was to express anger and frustration over what they describe as a lack of protection for Christians in Iraq. A siege Oct. 31 on a Baghdad church left 58 people dead. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Deal W. Hudson
July 3, 2008

The numbers are stark, and the situation is getting worse. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were 1.2 million Christians living there. Over 400,000 Christians have left the country since the war started. Many others have been kidnapped and killed; some have been crucified; a priest was beheaded, and an archbishop was kidnapped and killed.

One Chaldean and one Assyrian Catholic bishop from California presented a plan for protecting the Iraqi Christians who stay in spite of the danger and the ongoing discrimination and persecution. “The Iraqi constitution recognizes liberty of worship rather than freedom of religion,” says Bishop Sarhad Jammo of El Cajon, CA.

The bishops told me it was “a make or break moment” for Iraqi Christians, and it is up to the United States – and particularly to American Christians – to help find a solution.

My interview with Mar Sarhad Jammo and Mar Bawai Soro took place just after their meeting at the White House with members of the National Security Council. Jammo and Soro want the United States to support the establishment of an “Autonomous Area” in northern Iraq where Iraqi Christians could hold the main governmental positions.

The area they recommend is on the plains of Nineveh, a loaf-shaped area of land between the Mosul province and Kurdistan. There is already a majority of Aramaic-speaking Christians living there, as they have been for thousands of years. Aramaic is the language of Jesus, which has been spoken there up to the present day.

Of the remaining 800,000 Christians, 65 percent are Chaldeans, 25 percent Syriacs, and 10 percent Assyrians. Many Assyrian Christians are not in communion with the Catholic Church, but Bishop Soro, who is Assyrian, recently united with the Chaldean Catholic Diocese in California along with thousands of fellow Assyrians.

Bishop Jammo, whose family originates from the Nineveh plains, sees this plan as the best way to put an end to the bloodshed and persecution and provide equality of rights to the Christian inhabitants, including the rights of religious freedom and cultural expression and activity.

Bishop Soro predicted thousands of Iraqi Christians, who fled Iraq in the last few years, would return if they were not subject to discrimination on a daily basis, especially if they would have full freedom and an autonomous area of their own. “In Iraq right now Christians are second-class citizens.” Not only would the creation of this area defend and restore the Christian community, it also would provide a “stabilizing factor” in the entire region.

While the day to day hardships of Iraqi Christians have been little reported, some of the atrocities have received worldwide attention. The kidnapping and crucifixion of Christian children made the headlines, but it was the kidnapping and killing of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho that elicited protests from both Benedict XVI and President Bush.

The day of my interview with the bishops, the New York Times broke the story that the reason for Rahho’s kidnapping and execution was his refusal to continue paying protection money to Muslim gangsters. Rahho somehow used his cell phone to call friends telling them not to pay any ransom for his return. His body was found twelve days later.

The bishops think their proposal is getting serious consideration by the Bush administration. They hope that their advocacy will develop into a concrete result.

Their proposal is titled “The Christian Initiative for a Successful New Iraq.” This autonomous area would be established within the constitutional frame of Iraq, and would not be any kind of entity separate from Iraq, as some have suggested. Nevertheless, it would have a parliament “elected by all the adult Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people of the area,” as a component of the Iraqi population.

The bishops’ initiative faces serious political challenges. A source very familiar with the situation told me that the idea of an autonomous area would have to be approved at many levels, beginning with the local governments who share the Nineveh plain, the Iraqi government including Prime Minister Maliki, various countries including the U.S., and the UN and its Security Council. Further, the proposal for an area under “Christian control” might actually increase anti-Christian tensions even further.

Bishop Jammo and Bishop Soro have heard these objections before, but they are not deterred. “I don’t see how the situation can get any worse,” said Bishop Jammo. When I asked him if the solution was the implementation of the Iraq Constitution,” he replied: “The Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian People should have constitutional equality with Arabs and Kurds and that equality should include an Autonomous Area.”

While Christians in Iraq are being persecuted every day and deprived of their constitutional rights, the United States is bending over backward to maintain good relations with the Muslim community. In May, Maj. General Jeffrey Hammond held a meeting with Muslim leaders after a soldier used a Koran for target practice.

Gen. Hammond told them, “In the most humble manner, I look in your eyes today and I say, please forgive me and my soldiers.”

The proposal the Chaldean and Assyrian bishops offer the United States is simply to ask for the same level of respect for Christians struggling to remain in their Iraqi homeland.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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