.- An Argentinian priest caring for the Catholic community in Baghdad says the faith of persecuted Iraqi Christians is moving and will continue inspiring future believers for generations.
“The number of martyrs the Middle East is giving to the world is amazing. It is not well known but it will be in many years, and we will speak of them like we do of the acts of the martyrs of the early years of Christianity,” Father Luis Montes told Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“The faith they have despite the persecution is moving, as well as their sensitivity towards others,” he added, noting their profound devotion to the Virgin Mary.
Christians and other minorities in parts of Iraq are being strongly persecuted by ISIS, a Sunni Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State. After emerging earlier this year as one of the rebel groups fighting in the Syrian civil war, ISIS spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country’s north and west.
ISIS has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in its territory that mandates conversion, payment of a jizya tax, or death for Christians and other minorities who refuse to submit. Hundreds of thousands have fled due to the violence.
Despite the terror that has overtaken their lives, Fr. Montes said the Christians in Iraq have remained firm in their faith.
He cited the example of a Christian family in Qaraqosh harassed by jihadists and unable to flee.
“The terrorists pressure them every day to convert to Islam. Their very neighbors insult them and treat them with scorn, and they can’t even leave their own home to buy food, which they are running out of. They cannot leave because they won’t let them, or because they are afraid the mother will be killed.”
“One day, a group of terrorists entered the family’s home and they told them directly that they were going to take the mother away and make her some soldier’s slave. This is the frightening and terrible reality these people are experiencing and yet nevertheless they remain firm in their faith,” the priest explained.
In his post on the website Friends of Iraq, Fr. Montes also discussed his own commitment to serving the people of the country.
“The phrase I always say is: ‘I am not worthy to serve these people’,” explained the priest, who is a member of the Institute of the Word Incarnate.
“This nation is giving martyrs. Almost all the people I know in Iraq and in other countries of the Middle East know a family member killed out of hatred for the faith,” he said. “Others have suffered direct persecution or discrimination. For us it is an honor to serve these people.”
“Lord knows what He will ask of me in the future but as for me I would like to serve here my entire life.”
Fr. Montes also expressed the appreciation of the faithful in Baghdad for Pope Francis, who recently sent his personal envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni to convey his closeness to them.
“This is very important to the Christians in Iraq. He conveyed the Holy Father’s care for these people and for us it is a great consolation. We pray for him.”
The priest said the solution to the current crisis will require “humanitarian aid on a grand scale,” as the aid sent so far has been insufficient, as well as through intervention from the international community to stop the jihadists and cut off their financial sources.
“If this is not done urgently, the cruelty, the murders and the deaths are going to go on for a long time,” he warned.