Atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other minority religions have received extensive coverage in the media as the fundamentalist Islamic movement spreads to new areas and seems to be attracting recruits from many western countries as well as other Muslim nations.
We are stunned by the cruelty and brutality of ISIS soldiers who seem to be attempting to turn the clock of history back to the middle ages. I have mentioned before that Christianity in the Middle East, in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Iran dates to the very early days of the Church.
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Metropolitan Patriarch of Bagdad, whose metropolitan archeparchy embraces Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, in a recent interview, expressed a different and more intimate perspective on ISIS. He has served in the area which ISIS operates all his priestly life. Prior to his appointment as Metropolitan in 2013, he served as Archeparch of Kirkuk and previous to that as a priest of the Archeparchy of Mosul.
Concerning the escalating persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, the Patriarch observed, “There is meaning — the priority of faith. These people sacrifice themselves for love of what lives. This blood has a very great and profound meaning. As Jesus said: “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus is the model for them. The blood of the martyrs is a great strength and a source of hope for us. As Tertullian, early Church Father and apologist, said: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians.” So we can say that it’s death, but it’s also life. As the Lord also said: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). In my opinion, the West must see in the model of these martyrs a call, an appeal to conversion, to religiosity and to faith. If there are problems here today it’s because there is a void. Western society is losing its religious values; there is a culture of individualism, of pleasure, of money that does not satisfy man who has a tendency to the absolute.
On the reason so many from the West are joining ISIS, Patriarch Sako said, “I understand why these Western jihadists go to engage in a holy war, because they seek an ideal. ISIS shows force on the communicative plane but also on the religious. They have the ideal of creating a religious State. There is a sense of martyrdom. For them it is about a holy war… They have an ideal of Paradise that stems from a literal interpretation of the Koran… They don’t understand pluralism, and they think that the others have falsified religion. The movement of Islamization corresponds to a mission that they believe they have had. Otherwise, they think they will go to hell.”
His advice is “For a better world there must be: a reform of religions, in the sense that they are called to re-propose, to “update,” to re-evangelize and hence to render their message accessible. Secondly, it is necessary to give meaning and new hope to human life. A more just and open international policy that respects everyone’s human rights is needed. Every man is made in the image and likeness of God. Finally, there is an urgent need for economic reform. There must be more justice between the rich and the poor.”
Patriarch Sako will be one of the Fathers on the forthcoming Synod in October. To read his entire interview, please visit this link:
Image Credit: Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad speaks during a July 22 news conference in Irbil, Iraq. He said the future of Christians in Iraq was uncertain because of the recent violence. (CNS photo/Reuters) (July 23, 2014)