There was a palpable sense of grief and righteous anger at a memorial service for the victims of the recent Baghdad cathedral bombing, held at Holy Trinity Church, in Brook Green, west London on Friday. More than 800 Iraqi Christians attended the Syriac service, led by Bishop Alan Hopes and Syriac Catholic Chaplain Fr Nizar Simaan with Catholic and Orthodox clergy. The packed congregation included representatives from the Muslim community and local politicians. Messages were read from Archbishop Vincent Nichols, and Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In a passionately delivered homily, Fr Simaan told the congregation: "we are followers of Christ who offered himself on the cross for the salvation of mankind. Our anger at this massacre will not allow hatred to find a place in our hearts. We can still say to all Iraqi people: You are dear to us and we love you. Watching the pictures and films of the massacre should not sow in us the desire for revenge."
Condemning violence he warned: "if you do these things, you will not have any place in eternal life, and you are just a killer, a murderer."
"The Christians in Iraq are the original people of the land, and they have every right to stay and live there with respect. No one in Iraq must consider us as second or third class citizens," he said.
Fr Simaan appealed for the Iraqi authorities and foreign governments to do more to protect Christians in Iraq, and urged Muslim leaders to issue a Fatwa to prohibit the killing of Christians. He also called on Arabic and Islamic nations to condemn clearly and without reservation crimes against Christians in Iraq and everywhere.
The congregation gave Fr Simaan a standing ovation at the end of his homily. The congregation also clapped after a Muslim clergyman stood up to offer some words of support in Arabic.
The full text of Fr Simaan's homily follows:
Dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered here to celebrate the Mass and to pray for the martyrs of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad. We pray also for all innocent Iraqi people who have been victims of violence (Muslims, Yazidis, Arab and Kurdish…).
The Massacre: The barbarous massacre in the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad will not make us forget our identity: we are followers of Christ who offered himself on the cross for the salvation of mankind. Our anger at this massacre will not allow hatred to find a place in our hearts. We can still say to all Iraqi people: You are dear to us and we love you. Watching the pictures and films of the massacre should not sow in us the desire for revenge.
We believe that life is a gift from God and no one has the right to take it away. Our lament and our sorrow for our martyrs will not take away our Christian happiness. We will continue our religious and social celebration in a joyful way. The martyrdom of the fifty two people will not stop us having strong hope in a bright future for Iraq and her people. We will always play an active part in making this possible. The continuing threat from the terrorist groups will not force us to leave the land of our fathers. We will stay in Iraq and with other Iraqis we will challenge the terrorists until they are defeated.
Christians in Iraq: The Christians in Iraq are the fruit of God’s love, which is beyond any hate. We will stay in Iraq to plant this love between all God’s people. The Christians in Iraq are the original people of the land, and they have every right to stay and live there with respect. No one in Iraq must consider us as second or third class citizens. The Christians in Iraq have played a principal part in the history of Iraq over centuries. They have shed their blood defending the country. They are determined to defend it still. The Christians in Iraq are witnesses of the truth of Christ which challenges all the dishonesty of others.
We have the duty to announce the truth, to proclaim Christianity in freedom. The Christians in Iraq are the light which illuminates the souls, the minds and the hearts of all Iraqi people. Killing so many Christians will not extinguish the lamp. Their tears will be the oil which keeps this light alive. The Christians in Iraq are the doves which bring the news of peace, and work for peace. Our hands are extended to shake every honest and peaceful hand in Iraq. The Christians in Iraq are the salt which gives taste and flavour to Iraqi society.
Christian Mission: Christians were, are persecuted and condemned to death in the Middle East. It is an inevitable part of the Christian mission in this world. The Christian martyr is the one who dies to give life for others, while the terrorist groups call 'martyr' the one who destroys his own life and the life of other innocent people. Please dear young people do not let the terrorist deceive you, you are not going to be a martyr if you do these things, you will not have any place in eternal life, and you are just a killer, a murderer.
Let us remember that the immensity of Nero’s armies could not stop the church at her beginning. So how can the terrorist groups dare to think that they can defeat the church when Christ himself said that the gates of the underworld cannot hold against it. No matter how many Christians were killed or will be killed, no matter what kind of threat, the victory will be for truth, for the Christian Church and her people. We know that some individuals may decide to leave Iraq after this massacre, for these we ask other countries to open their door for them and welcome them. We are sure that the majority of Christians will stay in Iraq, and by their staying they are proclaiming victory over the terrorist organizations. Our duty is to offer them every kind of help: politically, economically and spiritually.
Appeal: In our modern world no one can close their eyes and not care about this criminal act. No one can be silent in the face of this massacre. We appeal to all who believe in human rights and defend them, especially the UN and other international organizations to stand against this massacre and do more not just by words but by practical acts. We ask everyone who is in power: Her Majesty’s Government, The Unities States the European Union and all others to take the responsibility of protecting the Christians and all Iraqi people from persecution and similar outrages.
We ask the politicians in Iraq, the government and the security forces to do more to protect the Christians, and to discover who is responsible for all crimes against Christians. We appeal to our Muslim brothers and sisters especially in Iraq, with whom we drank the same water from the Tigris and Euphrates; and eat the same fruit from our blessed land. We appeal to them to stand strongly against this kind of massacre.
We ask their leaders: Sunni or Shiite, to issue a Fatwa to prohibit the killing of Christians. We appeal to Arabic and Islamic nations to condemn clearly and without reservation crimes against Christians in Iraq and everywhere. Keeping silence means you are part of what is happening to the Christians in Iraq today. Please do not be like Pilate: don’t wash your hands saying: “I am innocent of this blood.”
The heavenly Father will welcome all those who paid so dearly with their blood. Their martyrdom will bless the Church of our Lady of Deliverance, making it a stronger bastion for future generations and bigger thorn in the side of evil men and women who do not truly believe in God.
To view a Frost over the World interview with Fr Nizar Semaan on Friday, November 12, 2010 see: http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/frostovertheworld/2010/11/20101113122540864871.html