Among the two million displaced people within Iraq are tens of thousands of Christians. Over the past three and half years, some 44 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Syria have been Christians. The million Christians in Iraq in 1990 have dwindled to perhaps 600,000.
Christians have experienced violence by Islamist groups from both the Sunni and the Shia sides, with bombing of churches, kidnapping, rapes, shootings and evictions. Christians who had moved to Baghdad and relative safety 50 years ago have now fled to the north of Iraq.
Baghdad's Catholic seminary and university (strangely to our ears named Babel College) have been relocated to Ankawa, a town of 15,000 in the Kurdish region. A far more radical idea was under discussion at the synod of the Chaldean Church last month at Alqosh, 20 miles from Mosul. That is: to set up a "Christian enclave" in the Nineveh plain.
All these places are steeped in antiquity. Christians have been here from the very beginning. The language of the Chaldean Christians is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was spoken by Jesus.
The Chaldean Church, the largest Christian group in Iraq, is in communion with the Pope. The Church in the East is the next biggest group. It derives from Christians who were not present at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, which agreed some important teaching about the nature of Jesus Christ. As a consequence, and through geographical isolation, divisions grew between the Church of the East and the Chaldeans. Only in 1994 did real hopes for reunion rise, with an agreed statement on Christology.
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