Christians in Mideast undergoing systematic persecution, says author

An Iraqi Christian boy fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul, stands inside the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif near Mosul, in the province of Nineveh, in this July 20, 2014 file photo.Reuters

Christians have been suffering from "systemic persecution" in the Middle East even before the Islamic State made its presence felt, said an author of a book on Christian persecution.

George J. Marlin, who wrote "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy" published earlier this month, said it is crucial for people to realise that even before the extremist group "came on the scene two years ago," the 21st century has continually seen a "systemic persecution of Christians," the Catholic News Agency reported.

Marlin—who heads Aid to the Church in Need-USA, a charity guided by the Pope that aids the persecuted and suffering Church globally—said Christians often look only at Europe as historically Christians. But he said they "sometimes forget that the first center [of the Church] was in Antioch, Syria, before St. Peter moved it to Rome, and so the apostles and early martyrs of the Church were in the Middle East."

"It's eye-opening for me as I am talking right now to so many other Americans that they're shocked to learn that there are Christians in the Middle East," said Marlin. "So I thought it was important to take this data and put together a story of what exactly is happening in Middle East at this point in time."

Marlin wrote in The New York Post that it is a "mistake to equate the Arab world exclusively with Muslims. Centuries before Islam appeared, the Mideast was the historic heartland of Christianity — its birthplace, and the place where its foundational theology and worship were first articulated."

The book, published by St. Augustine's Press, delves on the rise of radical Islamism and how it affects Christians in the Middle East.

It also recounts the history of both Christianity and Islam in the region, as well as a close-up look at where Christians are particularly persecuted.

"I've been able to see and speak firsthand to bishops and archbishops in the area, and other people who are often persecuted in the area," said Marlin.

For Christians, their "most daunting task is to survive," Marlin said. "They're concerned about survival. They're concerned about getting three meals a day. They're hoping they can educate their kids someday. They're hoping they can come back to their home."

"More importantly, we have to keep in mind that these Christians are beginning to feel abandoned by the Christian world because, although the Pope has come out and made some statements, Cardinal Dolan of New York has made some statements ... in the Western media, a lot of this is being ignored."

Persecution is not limited to ISIS-style execution of captives but includes pressure to shift to another religion, discriminative employment and education, church attacks, killings, destruction of homes and businesses, kidnapping, as well as being treated as second-class citizens, Marlin explained.

"That Christian presence is now at risk of disappearing — for good. The loss would be immeasurable," he said.

"A Middle East without Christians — holy sites not surrounded by a living Christian community — would turn the region into a museum of Christianity, maintained by foreign clergy for the benefit of foreign pilgrims. It would become a 'Church of stones,' in the ominous words of Pope Paul VI," he said.

Documents dating back thousands of years have also been ruined.

"We have Christians being driven out, they may never come back," he said. "We have the institutional Church being destroyed, and we have the patrimony of the Church being destroyed."

"These same tactics are used in these countries and are profiled in this book," Marlin said. "It's going on every day and it has been going on throughout this century and obviously centuries before this. It's time, I'm hoping, that people begin to catch on, particularly the Christians in the United States."

He cited the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul, whose remaining parishioners left even before ISIS occupied the city. In 2013, it had 14,100 residents, less than the 20,600 it had in 2004 after the US invasion of Iraq.

Its bishop, Amel Nona, was moved to the Chaldean eparchy for Australia, leaving the archeparchy empty.

Marlin said the only way groups like ISIS "are going to be put out of business is if modern Islam stands up and says 'this is wrong.' These radical groups, if they are not tamed, if they are not destroyed or eliminated, they may destroy the Christian presence in the Middle East," he said.

Marlin hopes that his book "jolts the conscience of the West, because too many people in Europe and in the United States have their head in the sand trying to ignore this problem here."

He suggested that "the President of the United States to appoint a special Middle East envoy just to deal with these Christian persecutions."

Marlin also proposed imposition of economic sanctions and denial of economic aid to countries that persecute their citizens.