Iraq (MNN) ― Christians used to be a vital force in the Middle East, but the rise of radical Islam and violence in recent days has driven many away. In 2008, churches were attacked or damaged by bombs, Christians received death threats, and several Christians were murdered, abused and/or kidnapped.
Their plight has not escaped notice. The Pope took time during his visit this week to encourage them and shed light on the gravity of the situation. In a Saturday service in Jordan, he said: "I urge diplomats and the international community they represent, together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens."
The words come following yet another attack on Christians. According to Compass Direct, gunmen in Iraq shot five Chaldean Christians in their Kirkuk homes on April 26 in two separate attacks, killing three and injuring two.
Tom Doyle with E3 Partners calls the papal address timely. "We talked to our leader in Iraq, and he said there's about ten major terrorist groups. It's their job to persecute Christians and go after them."
Christians make up less than four percent of Iraq's people. Doyle says that in spite of the thousands who have fled to Syria and Turkey, there is still a corps of dedicated and godly leaders to lead the remnant church. "We do know of significant numbers of Christians that are staying and have a fruitful ministry, and God is working in their midst."
E3 Partners continues to work in the region with what is fast becoming an underground church. He urges prayer for the believers who remain because "it is a daily battle that they are in. They're living their faith one day at a time, using each day to bring glory to Christ, to share the Gospel, to disciple new believers and to make an impact. Each day for them is tenuous."