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A crusade in Iraq — not

March 19, 2008 |  9:44 am

Our sister LAT blog “Babylon & Beyond” has an affecting article (with a fantastic photo) about the mourning in Iraq for Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic prelate who died after being kidnapped near Mosul. The death of the archbishop is another blow to Iraq’s Christian community, including the Chaldean Catholic Church, an ancient community in communion with Rome. The exodus of Christians from Iraq in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein goes a long way toward explaining why the Vatican was opposed to the American invasion. It also explains why Chaldean Christians in America resent Bush’s war.

Aside from the carnage unleashed by the invasion, which appalled Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the invasion and the subsequent creation of an Islamist-friendly regime have made life hazardous for Iraq’s Christian minority. Saddam Hussein may have been a ruthless dictator, but, like the equally autocratic Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he was better for Christians than the alternative. (During a visit to Cairo several years ago, I noticed portraits of Mubarak in the vestibules of Coptic Orthodox churches and was told that Christians considered the dictator a bulwark against persecution by Islamic extremists.)

The effect of the invasion on Christians in Iraq is only one of the unforeseen consequences of the neocons’ cocky campaign to transform the Middle East. But it is an especially painful one for Christians including the pope, who last year appointed the Chaldean patriarch to the College of Cardinals as a gesture of solidarity with Iraqi Christians.

The hemorrhage of Christians from Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East — including Palestine — is traumatic for Christianity because the religion began there.  Chaldean Catholics, and their cousins the Assyrian Christians, traditionally celebrate the Eucharist in Syriac, a language similar to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus and his disciples. They are in a sense living fossils who remind Western Christians of their faith’s Semitic origins. It would be ironic if a military operation likened by Muslims to the Crusades succeeded in depopulating Iraq of its Christians.

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