The number of Iraqi Christians has declined from about 2.5 million in the 1990s to less than 200,000 today. Secretary of State John Kerry recently referred to the Islamic State's persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq as "genocide." Here in Illinois, Catholic Dominican sisters from Springfield are among the most active groups trying to draw attention to the plight of these Iraqi citizens.
The presence of Christians in Iraq dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. Dominicans have been serving in that country since the 1800s, running schools, health clinics and other social service agencies. Today their work is focused on helping refugees, according to Sister Marcelline Koch of the Dominican justice promotion office. Most Iraqi Christians have fled to camps in the Kurdish sector of Iraq to escape ISIS death squads.
"There have been large scale massacres, we're told. We know of women being taken and sold in the marketplace," Koch said. She last traveled to Iraq in January 2015. She said refugees receive no help from the Iraqi central government and are dependent largely on religious organizations for food, shelter and medicine, which are all in scant supply.
Koch said in addition to Christians, ISIS fighters also target other religious minorities including Yezidis and certain other Moslem sects with whom they disagree.
In this interview, Koch talks about the struggle of the refugees and the work of the Dominican sisters and friars who choose to remain behind in Iraq at considerable peril.
Dominicans who remained in the country after the rise of the Islamic State were able to preserve a number of ancient religious texts. Working with Benedictine monks from from St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, they digitized many of those texts before the originals fell into the hands of ISIS fighters.
Donations to help the Iraqi Christians can be sent to Springfield Dominican Sisters, 1237 W. Monroe Street, Springfield, IL 62704 or by going to www.springfieldOP.org.