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Iraq's Christian community 'vulnerable' says bishop

Rev Joseph Francis, the President of the Christian Alliance Churches in Iraq, told SAT-7 worship and prayer show Keep on Singing, "The crisis has awakened our hearts as believers to pray for our precious nation. We encourage all believers to pray for us."

Pastor Francis said that churches are holding continuous prayer nights and told viewers, "The people are in a state of protest against corruption... seeking their rights, their freedoms, civil rights, and justice.

"We are close to the protesters and following the events closely," he added. "We offer help, support, love and the message of Jesus Christ among the supporters and security forces."

Mass anti-government protests erupted in October in Baghdad and other central and southern cities of Iraq, provoked by corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

Speaking from Iraq, Salwan, a TV director and writer, told how he had gone to the protests five or six times.

He said: "They are peaceful and positive, but the country is shooting people and using tear gas extensively. They are arresting activists and kidnapping them."

Salwan paid tribute to the courage of demonstrators and tuk-tuk drivers who ferried injured people from the Baghdad protests. He was especially encouraged by their unity despite their different religious and political backgrounds.

"We want to live in peace and security," he said. "I hope to see my country free of political and religious divisions."

Asked how Christians should respond to the crisis, he said: "The same words that God told Jonah of the people of Nineveh and their wickedness coming up before Him applies to us now. There's evil and it's increasing. The role of Christians in Iraq is to repent and return to God. We are not many in numbers and don't have the power to make a change, but we trust that our prayers will be answered just as Nehemiah prayed and his prayers were answered."

Bishop Yatron Koliana of the Assyrian Church of the East warned against the Church as an institution becoming involved in politics but stressed that all of Iraq's people, "Assyrians, Chaldeans, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, must stick together and demand each other's rights to live peacefully in one country as one people."

The bishop highlighted the vulnerability of Iraq's Christian community, which has seen its numbers fall from an estimated 1.5 million to 250,000 since 2003. Despite the efforts of those who "want to clear the Middle East of its Christians", he said, "We trust that Jesus promised that He would never abandon us. He overcame the world and that's our hope."

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