Christians in Washington, D.C., and Erbil, Iraq, joined hands through the Internet on Monday to celebrate the beginning of a three-day period of repentance and prayer known as the Rogation of the Ninevites.
The prayers came at a particularly dangerous time for Iraqi Christians, who have been fleeing Baghdad, Mosul, and other mixed-population areas since the Oct. 31, 2010, attack on a Baghdad church by jihadi Muslims who murdered 58 worshippers and wounded 78 more.
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“Since the beginning of November and Christmas, we have registered more than 2,300 Christian families who have fled to northern Iraq seeking safety,” said William Warda, president of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, an aide group that works with Christians and other minorities who have been forced to flee their homes in Iraq because of the jihadi Muslim attacks.
“We checked every village in the Nineveh Plain and in the Kurdish region in the north,” Warda told Newsmax by phone from Baghdad. “The flow of refugees has continued unabated since then.”
In Ainkawa, a Christian suburb of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, Christians have lived for centuries in relative peace. The Kurdish government has welcomed the latest wave of Christian refugees. But many Christians have been fleeing Kurdistan because they cannot find housing or jobs.
The Rev. Rayan Atto, a 31-year old Chaldean priest at Mar Qarakh in Erbil, led prayers on Monday at his church to start the three-day fast and repentance period that commemorates the Prophet Jonah’s summons to the people of Ninevah to repent or face destruction.
He was joined via a Skype Internet connection from Washington by the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who heads the Christian Defense Coalition.
Mahoney had planned to travel to northern Iraq to celebrate the Rogation of the Ninevites with church leaders in the Nineveh Plain and Mosul, the current-day city that sits on the ruins of ancient Nineveh, but church leaders told him it was too dangerous for him to come because of the risk of jihadi Muslim attacks.
Instead, he led a group of 50 church leaders and human rights leaders in prayers in front of the White House.
“There are Rogation ceremonies happening all across the United States in the next three days, as we pray for peace in Iraq and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Mahoney told worshippers in northern Iraq via the Skype call.
“We are kneeling right now. The Christians of America stand in solidarity with you, Father. We love you,” Mahoney said.
“This is important,” Rayan said in Erbil. “As the Holy Father confirmed last month, we are praying for the unity of Christians. This is the moment to show our unity and prayers and support of each other . . . I give you all thanks, and I pray for you.”
The Aramaic liturgy for the Rogation ceremony dates from the 4th century and is used widely in Ainkawa and across the Nineveh plain, although refugees from Baghdad felt more familiar singing the prayers in Arabic.
Kris Keating, a 32-year-old leader of Christian missions with Reach the Nations in Richmond, Va., decided to join Rayan in person.
“It is exciting to stand in unity with Christians in Iraq. An event like today’s demonstrates that Jesus is as Iraqi as he is American,” he told Newsmax.
“The need to protect Iraqi Christian minority from persecution is more urgent than the world knows. Praying and meeting with Father Rayan moves me to find more ways to support my persecuted brothers and sisters here,” he said.
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