Last week I was part of a delegation of seven bishops who visited Beirut in Lebanon and Erbil in northern Iraq. We went to offer spiritual and material support, to see the situation for ourselves and listen to their needs.
We encountered exceptional hospitality and kindness. The people were so happy we had come to be in solidarity with them. Upon hearing of Australia’s own experience of terrorism in Martin Place in the hours before we arrived in the Middle East, they immediately offered their own solidarity with us.
We met with senior church and government officials, but we also met with ordinary people including people forced out of their homes by Islamic State militants. In the last six months more than 125,000 Christians have fled Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq. A similar terrible fate has fallen on Muslim, Yazidi and other groups in the same area.
There were the two elderly Catholic women for example, from Mosul in Northern Iraq who initially refused to leave their homes. The militants gave them three impossible choices: convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or flee. Ultimately, they chose to leave but were not allowed to take anything with them. Punishment was death.