ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome  

U.S. Bishops: Religious Minorities Declining in Iraq
Sent Letter of Concern to Secretary of State

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 31, 2006 (Zenit.org).- U.S. bishops have asked the country's secretary of state to consider measures that would help improve the deteriorating situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

In a letter to Condoleezza Rice, Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the episcopal conference's Committee on International Policy, notes that Christians in Iraq continue to decline from a prewar population of 1.2 million to a current estimate of 600,000.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over 40% of Iraqi refugees are Christian even though they represent only about 4% of Iraq's total population.

"The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and interreligious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty," said Bishop Wenski of Orlando, Florida.

Pointing to recent violence against Christians, such as the beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul and the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the prelate said that the "vulnerability of Christians and other religious minorities is dramatic evidence of the serious and growing security challenges facing the entire nation of Iraq."

The bishop urged the U.S. government to consider the creation of a new "administrative region" in the Nineveh Plain Area that would be directly related to the central government in Baghdad, and to work with Kurdish authorities to ensure the safety of Christians in the Plain of Nineveh and to provide protection and assistance for religious minorities in areas directly under Kurdish control.

Bishop Wenski also urged a more generous refugee and asylum policy, including the possible resettlement of at-risk cases to the United States, and a review of economic reconstruction aid programs to ensure that aid is distributed fairly to all elements of Iraqi society.