Longing to Be Heard

It's dangerous and lonely to be an Iraqi Christian—at home or in exile.

Nearly 40,000 Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan and Syria are unlikely to return home any time soon, despite the recent national elections. Lack of safety is their biggest concern. "We voted, but we don't know whether elections will change the situation. If security is restored, then we may return to Iraq. But if there is no improvement, we won't go back," 18-year-old Boutros Chamoun told Christianity Today after Sunday mass at the Church of St. Terese of Little Jesus in the famed Old City sector of Damascus, Syria.

Chamoun fled with his widowed mother and his three siblings to Syria after militants blew up the laundry they ran in Baghdad. Among their clients were U.S. soldiers. The teenager's dark eyes looked anxious as he spoke about the future. "I don't think anyone ruling Iraq will consider the interests of Christians in or out of the country."

He's not alone in his grim assessment. Record numbers of Christians have fled Iraq, prompting worries that their 2,000-year-old presence is being seriously eroded. About 400,000 Iraqi refugees are now in Syria, according to reliable estimates. Only 4,000 are registered with the United Nations. Of the estimated 40,000 Christians who have left Iraq, the greatest number fled after a series of church bombings last August, according to church leaders in Syria and Jordan.

Today there are some 750,000 Christians in Iraq—about 3 percent of the nation's 26 million people. Before the war, the Christian community numbered 1 million. In 1987, there were 1.4 million Christians.

Most of Iraq's Christians are Chaldean Eastern Rite Catholics (though autonomous from Rome, they recognize papal primacy). Other Christian denominations in Iraq include Roman and Syrian Catholics, Assyrians, Presbyterians, ...

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