By Michelle Bauman
As the United States finishes pulling its final troops out of Iraq, analysts say that the tragic results of the war, predicted by Pope John Paul II, are being sharply felt by Christians in the country.
Iraqi priest Fr. Firas Behnam Benoka told CNA on Dec. 19 that if world leaders had listened to the “prophetic words” of the late pontiff, “love wouldn’t have been killed off in favor of violence and hate.”
Fr. Benoka said that the Iraqi people continue to face “a terrible tragedy,” as they fight the “shadow of violence” that has been left upon their souls.
The nine-year war has had “dire consequences” for the Christian population in Iraq, said Michael La Civita, vice president for communications at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Pope John Paul II had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, urging negotiation and other nonviolent efforts to work for peace in the country.
He warned that war would bring about “tremendous consequences” for the Iraqi people, living in a region that was “already sorely tried” by violence.
Sadly, La Civita told CNA on Dec. 16, the Pope’s predictions about the war’s effects on the country proved accurate.
He noted that more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the war. In addition to the cost in human lives, the war has “absolutely devastated” the Christian community in Iraq, he said.
In a Dec. 15 blog post, La Civita pointed to a United Nations report indicating that “more than 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes.”
He explained that according to U.N. estimates, “almost half of Iraq’s middle and professional classes have fled.”
A large percentage of this class was Christian, he said, observing that about 75 percent of the Iraq’s Christian, Mandaean and Yazidi minorities have left their homes.
A recent report by the U.S. State Department found that the Christian population in the country is currently less than half of what it was in 2003.
The result, La Civita said, has been empty churches and lack of financial support for parish communities and programs.
Broken families abound, he added, and many women and children have been left “to fend for themselves.”
Fr. Benoka described “the Iraqi of today” as a “fragile man without hope” in a society that is still deeply divided.
He said that Christians in Iraq “have disappeared, along with the other minorities.”
As the United States pulls its final troops out of the country, the future of these minority groups is uncertain.
Fr. Benoka said that Christians in the country worry about “the idea of extinction” and are fearful “of being used” for political reasons. Still, he said, the survival of Iraqi Christians is possible if peace is established in the country.
La Civita believes the treatment that minorities receive will play an important role in determining the direction that the country is headed in coming years.
“Minorities or a lack thereof will determine the future of Iraq,” he said.