“Along with the armed guard outside and concrete anti-blast walls, it makes St Shmoni’s feel more like a fortress than a house of worship. And after a decade in which Doura’s Iraqi Christian community has been robbed, kidnapped and murdered by Islamist extremists, it finds itself offering sanctuary to an ever-dwindling flock.

“Doura was once one of the biggest Christian communities in Iraq, with 30,000 families,” said the archbishop, as he prepared for an afternoon congregation that barely filled two of the 22 rows of pews. “Now there are only 2,000 left. They feel they are strangers in their own land, and that makes them want to leave. The bleeding from migration is continuous.”

The Archbishop of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako, has called on the West to help put an end to the ‘mortal exodus’ of Christians from the Middle East, reports World Watch Monitor. “Sako, who is also Patriarch of Babylon, told a conference in Rome that the situation in Iraq over the past 10 years has gone from bad to worse.

“‘In Iraq, after 10 years, we still don’t have security. There are daily attacks, explosions, kidnappings and murders,’ he said. The Iraqi Archbishop pointed towards the rise of political Islam as one of the major opponents of the Church in the Middle East, while he said the US-led invasion of Iraq has ‘destroyed the country.’

An Iraqi Christian (photo courtesy Open Doors International)

An Iraqi Christian (photo courtesy Open Doors International)

Suffering has become “an everyday struggle for all Iraqis, but especially for Christians,” he said. “Muslims are always strong enough with their tribes. They also have the advantage of living in a country ruled under Islamic orders. But Christians and other minority groups have been worn down by a worsening security situation.’

“Since 2003, Sako said,” reported World Watch Monitor, “more than 1000 Christians have been killed in Iraq (and others kidnapped and tortured), while 62 churches and monasteries have been

With al-Qaida once again on the rise in Iraq, “more than 6,000 people have been killed in 2013, the most in five years,” reported the Telegraph. “Christian communities such as Doura are already contemplating that very scenario.

“Today, St Shmoni is one of just two of Doura’s original seven churches still open, casualties of a period in which the area become one of the most notorious al-Qaeda strongholds in Baghdad. In the years that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, two churches were car bombed, while the others closed due to lack of numbers and the kidnapping for ransom of four of Archbishop Esha’s fellow priests, which has left just him and a local monk remaining.

“Over the years, his own church has had an improvised explosive device and two car bombs planted outside it. All were fortunately discovered before they were detonated,” writes Freeman. “The picture in Doura is repeated across Iraq.

Christians unable to immigrate Europe and America have fled to sister communities in neighboring Syria, “only to find themselves in similar peril thanks to al-Qaida’s presence in the war against President Bashar al-Assad,” writes Freeman. “Now, though, a last-ditch effort to end the exodus is under way.

Archbishop Sakobroke has broken with the church’s long-standing convention that speaking out about the problems would only make them worse. “At first glance,” writes Freeman, “the 64-year-old cleric is living proof of the Christian adage ‘blessed are the meek.’ He speaks with a soft voice, and, at only 5-foot-5, is dwarfed by the armed bodyguards who these days accompany him at all times.

“But in his first public address in March, delivered at St Joseph’s church

in central Baghdad, he gave his congregation a blunt but powerful message, rich in historical resonance.

A young Iraqi Christian (photo courtesy Open Doors International)

A young Iraqi Christian (photo courtesy Open Doors International)

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