By Jessica Easthope
Around the globe, hundreds of millions of Christians live in places where persecution is considered extreme, where believing in Christ is dangerous – and few are more hostile than Iraq.
“The Christians have been in Iraq since the apostles and Christians in Iraq have suffered greatly in the last 20th century and it’s shown by the number of people who have left,” said Ed Clancy, the director of outreach for the papal organization, Aid to the Church in Need.
At the turn of century, Christians made up nearly 13 percent of the population in Iraq at more than one million. Today, they’re under one percent with only about 270,000 left.
Aid to the Church in Need says the United States’ influence in Iraq caused a major shift.
“The situation in Iraq was not good under Saddam Hussein but the Christian population was surviving, since then it’s been decimated and that’s because of the instability and the problems,” said Clancy.
Christians and church leaders in Iraq were hopeful after Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country in March, but Clancy says government control of economic and employment opportunities keep Christians down.
“As their numbers decrease they lose a certain ability to support themselves and they become more and more reliant on the government to support them and the government is not,” he said.
Aid to the Church in Need has rebuilt thousands of Christian homes destroyed during the ISIS genocide which ended in 2017, but terrorism and extremists are still the biggest threat to Iraqi Christians. Clancy says people can still return, but that first requires helping the Christians currently in Iraq stay there.
“A dedicated few can have an effect, the importance ideally is we have to support those dedicated few, to make sure they’re protected, represented and that we as a country speak up for them and we as Christians and Catholics do the same,” said Clancy.
If the threats Iraqi Christians face persist more will leave and language, liturgy and history will be lost.