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Blog: Tragedy in Baghdad Church

Nov 07, 2010 | By Sister Beth Murphy, OP, Catholic Services of Macomb, Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Refugee Resettlement

Thursday night last week, I finally got around to preparing for the Saturday catechism class at St. Toma Syriac Parish. I grabbed my Bible to check the Sunday scriptures – today's scriptures – and my heart skipped a beat. There it was, in front of me, the same story that my Iraqi friends and family had been living all week: the story of the heinous torture and murder of seven Macabbean martyrs and their mother (2 Maccabees 7). In the Old Testament accounts, seven brothers were slaughtered in unspeakable ways as their mother watched, until at the last, she also was killed. Even the much edited, less terrifying version of the story read on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C is difficult to hear under normal circumstances. 

But these are not "normal circumstances."

A week ago today the little kids who attend the English Mass at St. Toma were on "high G" thinking about costumes, candy, and trick-or-treating. I was trying to enrich the conversation with little tidbits about the Christian perspective on All Hallows Eve – the night we Christians prowl the earth in cognito to ward off the evil spirits in preparation for the great feast of All Saints the following day. Yes. And while we were laughing and joking and enjoying ourselves, 6,000 miles away the relatives and friends of these little American kids were being terrorized and tortured in their sister church, Our Lady of Deliverance, Baghdad. 

When the 5-hour ordeal ended at least 58 people were dead, many more were wounded. Most of America will have noted the tragedy and moved on, if they were aware of it at all. From where I stand, however, it is impossible not to be aware of the waves of grief that have enveloped the world, surging along the fault lines created in Iraqi society by the displacement of tens of thousands of Iraq's Christian minority who have fled what is clearly a growing genocidal threat. 

For my Iraqi Dominican Sisters and Brothers, many of whom lost relatives, co-ministers, and dear friends in the massacre, the effect has been numbing. An entire family, neighbors to the sisters who lived in a nearby parish, died together in the church. "There was no one left to bury the dead," my sister told me. "Only us. The sister and friars buried the family." 

As the stories of the survivors unfold, I am overwhelmed by the selflessness, heroism, and truly Christ-like responses of those in the Church. One survivor was asked by a reporter, what do you say to the terrorists. Through his tears he said "We forgive you." 

The two young priests were both killed early during the attack, as they attempted to calm the situation and protect the many worshipers in the church. This morning at St. Toma Father Safaa Habash told those gathered for the English Mass that one of the young men was hearing confessions as the massacre began, and the other, presiding at the altar, had just finished reading the Gospel for the Feast of All Saints. "They completed their mission," he said, "and became themselves the sacrifice of the Eucharist on the altar." They and their parishioners with them. 

Among the victims of this senseless tragedy was a little boy named Adam. According to a friend, who has been interpreting for me some of the Arabic language testimony of the survivors, 3-year-old Adam witnessed the horror of dozens of deaths, including that of his own parents. He wandered among the corpses and the blood, following the terrorists around and admonishing them "enough, enough, enough." According to witnesses, this continued for two hours until little Adam was himself murdered.

As angry and despairing as I am tempted to be in the face of such senseless acts of violence, I do not have that luxury. How can I remain silent in the face of little Adam's prophetic call for peace? How can I turn my anger inward and allow it to immobilize me when the victims of the tragedy themselves call for forgiveness?

If you would like to raise your voice in support of Prophet Adam's mandate to end the violence and killing, here are some ways to start:

  • The Syriac community around the world has organized a simultaneous rally in support of the Iraqi Christian community. If you can't make one of the rallies, you can join us in prayer, fasting, and advocacy.
  • Sign a petition.
  • Write or call Secretary of State Clinton and your members of Congress in support of the call to develop a comprehensive policy to protect Iraq's minority populations.
  • Send a condolence letter to the Syriac Christian community. You can send it through me (15945 Canal Rd, Clinton Twp, MI 48038 or murphy.beth@csmacomb.org).  
  • Contribute to the support of Iraqi refugees displaced in Syria, Jordan, and Turkey through the Adopt-A-Refugee program.
  • One of the consequences of this tragedy will no doubt be the flight of more Christians from Iraq. As the refugee crisis wears on, my colleagues in the refugee resettlement office and I notice a trend among the new arrivals: they are less physically healthy, have less emotional resilience, and are arriving with less support. You can help. Send checks made payable to Office of Refugee Resettlement to my attention at 15945 Canal Rd, Clinton Twp, MI 48038.

Finally, wherever you go, bear witness to the words of Prophet Adam: Enough. Enough. Enough. Thank you and God bless you for your concern and care for the people of Iraq.