In honor of Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq this week, I want to honor the memory of the 48 Iraqi martyrs killed in the massacre at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.
On October 31, 2010, six jihadist from the Islamic State of Iraq stormed into Our Lady of Salvation Church during the celebration of 6:00pm evening Mass. Our Lady of Salvation is a church of the Syriac Catholic Church. The men closed the church doors behind them, gathered as many of the 100 worshippers as they could into the center area of the church, turned the lights off and started shooting into the congregation. Nineteen were able to escape just as the jihadists entered, and a priest was able to lead another sixty out through a back door. One priest was killed at the altar, though it’s impossible to say how many were killed in this first onslaught of gunfire.
Around 8:30pm, dozens of Iraqi security forces burst into the church in response to the jihadists threats to kill all those in the church. In response, the jihadists, who had been wearing suicide vests, ignited their vests. Many more died in the resulting explosions. In total, 48 parishioners were killed, including two priests, a three month old child and a woman pregnant with her unborn child. The cause for the canonization of these 48 martyrs has been initiated.
In his visit to Iraq, Pope Francis has encouraged the continued zeal of the Iraqi church, with its roots going back all the way to the first century. By tradition, the apostles St. Thomas and St. Jude were the first Christian missionaries to Babylon, the area now called Iraq.
Christians in Iraq have suffered regular attacks since the beginning of the new century. From 2004 to 2006, 27 churches were attacked, some being bombed. As well, Christians have been kidnapped and murdered, especially women. The persecutions have inspired many Iraqi Christians to leave the country, many fleeing to the West.
In his address to the Catholics of Iraq during his visit to Our Lady of Salvation Church, Pope Francis said, “What must never be locked down or reduced, … is our apostolic zeal, drawn in your case from ancient roots, from the unbroken presence of the Church in these lands since earliest times.” Referencing those killed in the 2010 attack, Francis said, “Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings. … I also want to remember all the victims of violence and persecution, regardless of the religious group to which they belong.”
Francis was met at the church by His Beatitude Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Yonan, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and by His Beatitude Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church. His Beatitude Sako said of Pope Francis’ visit, “Your fatherly visit gives us the strength to overcome adversity, it reassures us that we are not forgotten, and generates trust and enthusiasm in us to continue our journey of faith and of evangelical witness, despite the difficulties.”
During his four day trip, Pope Francis has met with leaders of the Iraqi government as well as religious leaders of Islam.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.