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Priest From Iraq Says… “We Don’t Deserve To Be Wiped From The Face Of The Earth”

September 3, 2014 Frontpage No Comments


PHOENIX — Even though she was so moved by Christians’ suffering in Iraq that she wrote the novel A Martyr’s Crown, published in early 2013, an Arizona author said she couldn’t have believed the persecution soon would become even worse.
The author, Joyce Coronel, told The Wanderer that she was deeply affected by the Christians’ plight when she learned details of it in 2010, but she “never would have imagined” the results of the recent emergence of what has become known as the Islamic State.
It’s an expanding terrorist army that demands utter Islamic dominance.
Chaldean Catholics once were the largest Christian group in Iraq, but have been fleeing serious threats, turmoil, and death.
Coronel’s A Martyr’s Crown (Holy Angels Press) tells of a young Iraqi couple who eventually depart for the United States, coming to southern Arizona because of its desert setting they consider familiar, as well as a local Chaldean community. Their baby daughter had been murdered by terrorists in Iraq at the Mass where they took her for Baptism.
In part, the novel contrasts the Chaldean couple’s dedication to the Catholic faith with the sometimes indifferent attitude of some churchgoing American Catholics.
When the book appeared, one could consider it a reminder that U.S. Catholics should be grateful for their faith even if they don’t face the threat of death. But now, in less than two years, a person hears warnings that Islamic State terrorists even may have the U.S. homeland in their sights for attacks.
A Chaldean Catholic priest and Iraqi native serving in Scottsdale, Ariz., Fr. Felix Shabi, told The Wanderer on August 22 that he’s hearing that after some fathers of families in Iraq were killed and their wives and daughters taken for sex slavery, the remaining children “were buried alive. I heard about it. I didn’t see it.”
Not so long ago, Iraqi individuals were kidnapped and slaughtered, and this touched families throughout the society, “but that phase ended,” Shabi said, and has been succeeded by attacks against cities — “the whole town, 40,000 people” coming under assault.
With people driven from their homes with no money, clothes, or other possessions, “You don’t know where to go, what to do,” Shabi said.
People sleep in the streets and next to dumpsters, he said.
Shabi arrived in the United States in 2002 and came to Arizona in 2009. He serves as pastor of Scottsdale’s Mar Abraham Chaldean Catholic Church, which has a congregation of about 1,000 families. Shabi also is episcopal vicar of Chaldean Catholics in Arizona and Nevada.
He was among clergy, including Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, at an evening holy hour for Iraq held by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix at its cathedral, Saints Simon and Jude, on August 22.
About 1,100 people attended, filling the cathedral for a service that included adoration, benediction, and a choir singing in the ancient language of Aramaic, considered to have been the everyday tongue spoken by Christ. A five-decade rosary was recited, with the final decade in Aramaic, whose word pronunciations were given on the service’s song sheet.
Some in the congregation wore T-shirts saying “Save Iraqi Christians,” along with the shape of a cross.
“The world has to wake up and look,” Shabi told The Wanderer, and should see the tragedy with “not only an eye of mercy, an eye of pity, but solidarity. . . . We are human beings. Our language is so ancient. . . . We don’t deserve to be wiped from the face of the Earth.”
As The Wanderer interviewed Shabi after the holy hour, a woman came up to him and they exchanged comments in Aramaic. The priest then said he didn’t know exactly how old the language is, but “I know it was spoken 2,000 years before Jesus.”
In an article in the August 21 issue of the Phoenix diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Sun, Shabi was quoted, “It looks like the end of the road for us” in Iraq, after being there from the early days of Christianity.
Coronel, the Martyr’s Crown author, also is interim managing editor of The Catholic Sun. She told The Wanderer in an email interview that she “never would have imagined back in November 2010 that we would see such an outrageous persecution of the Iraqi Christians.
“The stories coming from Mosul and the surrounding villages are heartbreaking, to say the least,” she said. “Families torn apart, young women sold into sexual slavery, people dying from heart attacks over the stress; babies dying of dysentery and cholera. Homes and churches destroyed.”
Two years of interviews and work among Arizona Chaldeans led to publication of A Martyr’s Crown last year. It was reviewed in the February 21, 2013, issue of The Wanderer. More information about the book is at
The Islamic State also has been referred to in recent news stories as ISIS and ISIL.
Coronel told The Wanderer that the Islamic State “is a serious threat. I believe we are facing an enemy as deadly as the Nazis ever were, and it’s going to take a lot of prayer and faith to see us through this time of trial. God help us, because we are becoming an increasingly secular society.”
One of the characters in her book, Fr. George Rama, “is a composite of Fr. Felix [Shabi], and two other priests I met who were brutally tortured for the faith,” she said. “It has simply been a life-changing experience to come to know people who have truly suffered for the faith in ways we cannot begin to imagine.”
Although Shabi wasn’t tortured, Coronel said, his cousin, Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a real-life priest in Mosul, was martyred in 2007. Ganni and three subdeacons were fatally shot after evening Mass because the priest refused to close down his church.
Iraqi Christians’ “courage and their willingness to endure hardship is deeply inspiring,” Coronel said. “It has forever changed the way I pray and given me a greater thirst for the sacraments, particularly Penance. If these people are willing to die for their faith — and let’s face it, we’ll probably not face gunfire over our choice to be followers of Christ — then what are we doing to really live as disciples?
“How can we be more authentic in our faith? Are we willing to sacrifice or are we just going through the motions, paying lip service to the Gospel? The example of the Iraqi Christians ought to call us to sincere contrition and conversion of heart,” she continued.

A Grave Moral Obligation

As for another personal change, Coronel said, “I guess you could compare what happened to me to similar stories of journalists covering events in Africa or Haiti who are then moved to adopt a child from there. Except in this case, the Chaldeans have adopted me!
“After three years of attending their Mass weekly, I’ve been able to learn the prayers and chants in Aramaic and can get the gist of a homily. I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours that the Chaldeans have and it has greatly enriched my prayer life, too. I will be forever grateful for all they have taught me.”
Despite the persecution and death, Coronel said, “you can also read about people defying the terrorists, refusing to renounce Christ. I believe we have a grave moral obligation to assist these dear people in every way possible.”
She also recalled the destabilizing U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003, undertaken despite serious warnings of grave unintended consequences.
Since that invasion, the August 21 Sun story about Shabi noted, “more than half the Christian population has left” Iraq.
A front-page story in the March 21, 2003, Wall Street Journal cited then-President George W. Bush’s wildly optimistic hopes that toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would bring a brighter day for both the U.S. and the Mideast. “In the long run, that changes the dynamic of the region, making it more friendly to Washington and spreading democracy,” the paper said.
Coronel told The Wanderer: “One of the unintended consequences of the American invasion was the great harm done to the ancient Christian community in Iraq. We should have listened to [the Pope at that time, now canonized as] St. John Paul the Great!
“I remember right before the invasion,” Coronel continued, “we received a letter to the editor at The Catholic Sun. The writer’s words remain etched in my mind to this day; he warned us that an invasion would lead to the destruction of this precious Christian community. He was right on the money with that prediction. Unfortunately, no one listened.”

Left In Ruins

Coincidentally, British conservative commentator Peter Hitchens recently looked back at that invasion and lamented that it “utterly destabilized the region and left it in ruins for years to come.”
Hitchens added during the Laura Ingraham national radio program on August 22 that the U.S. invasion made the situation “so much worse.”
One of the major fractures in Bush’s presidency began when the seemingly cocky president ignored many conservatives’ warnings that wading in to upset delicate balances in the Mideast could have a disastrous result. The Wanderer shared those conservatives’ worries.
Bush was much like his globalist successor, Barack Obama, in falsely thinking that cultures, borders, and traditions are often no more than whimsies that can be uprooted and transformed as desired.
Coronel, referring to the August 22 Phoenix holy hour, exclaimed, “It was very fitting to have held the holy hour on the feast of the Queenship of Mary. Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us!”
Shabi told The Wanderer that Iraqi refugees are fleeing to locations including Turkey, Lebanon, Dubai, Qatar, and, as their second choice, more distant destinations including Europe and the U.S. They’re showing up at “the four corners of the world,” he said.
An ancient Arabic saying is said to be, “The falling camel attracts many knives.”
These days, U.S. shortsightedness on political policy seems to have both the U.S. and overseas lands playing the role of camel, while Obama scampers off to yet another oasis to play 18 holes of irresponsibility.

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