“Enough! Enough!” shouted a three-year old toddler as he chased one of the Islamic terrorists gunning down the faithful at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that evening of October 31, 2010. In response, the Mujahidin turned his gun on the valiant boy and riddled him with bullets.
About 200 Catholics were fulfilling their Sunday obligation at the cathedral of the Syriac Catholic rite (an Eastern Catholic rite under the Pope) in central Baghdad. They knew they were at risk because one of the priests in the cathedral, Father Douglas Yousef Al-Bazy, had been kidnapped in 2006 and the church was surrounded with barbed wire fences and concrete blocks for protection.
The evening Mass was developing normally when terrorists broke into the church shouting, “Christian dogs, you are all going to die because you are infidels, you’re going to hell and we are going to paradise! Allah Akbar!”1
“Several survivors,” The New York Times reports, “said that many of the casualties occurred when the gunmen entered and began firing randomly—at people, church icons and even windows. They described a ferocity on the part of the gunmen, some of them speaking in dialects from other Arab countries, as though the very sight of the church’s interior had enraged them. ‘They seemed insane,’ said Ban Abdullah, a 50-year-old survivor.”2
The Shepherd Offers Himself up for the Sheep
Holding a crucifix, Fr. Wassim Sabih, one of the two priests murdered in the church, asked the terrorists to kill him but spare his faithful. He was thrown on the ground and killed.
Marie Freij, a parishioner, was wounded in the leg and lay for three hours bathed in her own blood. Her statement, later at the hospital, touches on the sublimity of the Faith: “I thought I would come out alive, but even if I didn’t I was in church and therefore it would have been good [to die].”
After the five hours of terror were over, three priests and 50 faithful lay dead, and about 80 wounded. The Islamic terrorists blew themselves up with their explosive vests as the police broke in.
Threats to the Pope and to All Christians
This barbarous act of terrorism was claimed by an arm of Al-Qaeda, the “Islamic State of Iraq,” which issued this statement:
“The Mujahideens raided a filthy nest of the nests of polytheism, which has been long taken by the Christians of Iraq as a headquarter for a war against the religion of Islam.”3
The statement described the pope as “the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican” and warned that Christians would be “extirpated and dispersed” from Iraq. “All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the muhajideen wherever they can reach them,” the statement said. “We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.”4
Martyrs and Crusaders
The Islamic terrorists who brutally massacred the Catholics in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Perpetual Help in Baghdad and then committed suicide saw themselves as martyrs to their religion and hoped to received the reward of 72 virgins for eternity.
In contrast, a real martyr–the Christian martyr–is one who gives his life in testimony to and in defense of the Faith or a virtue; in holocaust to God’s love, he prefers to die rather than abandon faith or virtue.
There is no doubt that the priests and laity immolated during Mass in Baghdad can be considered martyrs: they died bearing witness to the Faith. They knew they were running a risk going to Mass in view of continuous threats but decided to face them out of religious zeal.
Let us ask them to intercede especially for the Catholics persecuted in the Islamic world.
The Holy Ghost, who raised up legions of martyrs in the Church, drawing admiration and many conversions among their own executioners in the Roman Empire, also stirred up enthusiasm for the Crusades in defense of the Faith preached by Blessed Pope Urban II and Saint Bernard. The crusaders went to the Orient not to impose the faith through the sword–the way Islam expanded–but to defend Christians in the Holy Land and the Byzantine Empire attacked by the followers of Mohamed and to regain custody of the Holy Sepulcher of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us ask the martyrs of Baghdad to intercede so that the spirit of Crusade may be rekindled in this our decadent West, which is now so far removed from the Catholic faith.
- Sébastien de Courtois, Les chrétiens d’Irak racontent leur calvaire quotidien, Nov. 12, 2010, http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2010/11/12/01003-20101112
- ANTHONY SHADID, “Church Attack Seen as Strike at Iraq’s Core,” Nov. 1, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/world/middleeast
- Jonathan Adams, Correspondent / Nov. 1, 2010, “Deadly Baghdad church siege highlights threat to Iraqi Christians,” http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2010/1101/Deadly
- “Resurgent al-Qaida threatens Christians in Iraq with ‘destruction’” Martin Chulov, Nov. 3, 2010, IRAQ: Al Qaeda threat: Christians are legitimate targets, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/03/alqaida-christians-iraq-threat/print.