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Jennifer Scroggins talks to Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan about the fate of Iraqi Christians.

Special Features
Day 5:Beirut, Lebanon

Memorial to Priests Killed in Baghdad.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
A shepherd would never encourage his flock to flee, yet that’s exactly the dilemma facing at least one prominent Christian leader in the Middle East. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan is mourning the recent attacks against Iraqi Christians while also grieving for what he fears is a future marked by jihad and the continued rapid decline of Christianity in the volatile region, particularly Iraq.

On Oct. 31, 50 people, including two priests, were killed during Mass in Baghdad when armed men burst into Our Lady of Salvation church. On Nov. 10, 11 roadside bombs were detonated in three primarily Christian areas in Baghdad, in addition to attacks on other Christian neighborhoods that same day.

The violence against Christians clearly is escalating, leaving the faithful and their leaders feeling powerless. “For those who survive, what can we tell them?” Patriarch Younan says Nov. 11, addressing a group of North American journalists. “They feel abandoned by everyone.”

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Human Rights Watch says in 2008, Iraq was home to 675,000 Christians—down from 1 million in 2003, when the United States led the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein from power.

Mirella Chucrallah, a social worker who aids displaced Iraqis in Lebanon for the organization Caritas, says the current wave of emigration consists of Iraqis who initially resisted departing their homeland. Many Baghdad residents fled to the north country but now see such a widespread threat, they feel compelled to leave Iraq entirely.

“They left Baghdad for other cities with hope to return,” Chucrallah says. “But now, nothing is left. They are totally desperate now.” In many cases, Iraqis are coming to Lebanon on three-month tourism visas and then staying illegally. Chucrallah says Lebanon is the best option for many families because countries such as Jordan and Syria often will not grant visas to Iraqi men.

Mirella Chucrallah, Caritas social worker. (photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
While Chucrallah and Caritas work to provide legal, medical, emotional and physical support to families in flight, Patriarch Younan ponders what can be done to stem the exodus in the first place.

“It’s a train we can’t stop because of many factors,” he says. His foremost concern is providing protection for Christians still in Iraq. While Sunni and Shiite Muslims battle for control of the country, the Christian minority is easy to attack as terrorists take advantage of the lack of government, Patriarch Younan says.

He notes that there are some 50 Christian institutions in Baghdad, including hospitals and schools that serve Muslims as well as Christians. Yet Patriarch Younan says doctors are spending the night in their hospitals, afraid to leave for fear of violence.

He also points out that many attacks take place during the day—not under cover of darkness. “Where are the security forces?” he asks, a tone of urgency in his voice.

Patriarch Younan, who served the Syriac Catholic community in New Jersey from 1986-2009, says the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 is not to blame for the Muslim-Christian issues at work in Iraq now. “The main issue with killing Christians, persecuting them, is neither Israeli nor U.S. intervention in Iraq,” Patriarch Younan says. “Of course, it has aggravated it because it wasn’t well-planned. “There was a dictator in Iraq and the man could oppress his people as he wanted, and few democratic nations would criticize him because of oil interests.”

Patriarch Younan says he visited Iraq in 2001 and saw a country where “people were like in a large prison.” Now, he says, Hussein is gone, but Christians are the weakest segment of the population and they are viewed as “infidels” by Muslims, who will not distinguish religion from politics. The intra-Islamic conflicts, Patriarch Younan says, make him skeptical that the U.S. will be able to make good on its plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.

“I don’t think the U.S. government will be so naive as to withdraw completely from Iraq,” he says. “We all know what kind of tensions exist between Sunnis and Shia. (The U.S. has) to stay, not just for the region, but for the whole world. “They have to be careful until we have a strong government in Iraq. Iran will be the first to get hegemony on Iraq.”

Patriarch Younan’s frustration is obvious as he speaks. In the Middle East, it seems religious leaders also are called to be political leaders, even if only tangentially. Patriarch Younan describes the situation of Christians in Iraq as “a kind of modern genocide.” He calls for the Iraqi government, such as it is, to protect Christians as “true citizens” and exhorts the international community to intercede on behalf of the Christian community.

The suffering has to end, he says. “Enough is enough. They need not only words, but acts.”

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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.


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