Crosses on churches and pealing church bells are a thing of the past in Raqqa, Syria, as long as extreme Islamists remain in power there.
After seizing it last March, militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS, control the province of Raqqa, a region that was until recently at least 10 percent Christian. The militants have torched churches, and destroyed their crosses, replacing them with the group’s black Islamic banner.
ISIL recently issued a list of rules it planned to impose and gave Christians three choices: convert to Islam, remain Christian and pay a “jizya tax” for protection, or “refuse and be considered warriors who will be confronted with the sword of the Islamic State.”
ICC Note: As the conflict in Syria moves closer to its third year, attention is again being raised to the plight of the country’s Christian community which has been left vulnerable in the midst of the conflict. Throughout the Middle East Christians have typically presented a moderating force, committed to non-violence, valuing diversity, and promoting peace-building and education. With the specific targeting of Christians and churches this appears to be lost as many have fled their homes and for some the region.
The persecution of Christians in contemporary society was the focus of Pope Francis’ homily at his Mass on Tuesday morning in the Santa Marta residence. He warned that the Cross is always on the road of a Christian, saying there are more Christian martyrs today than during the early days of the Church.
He has been called a mentor to accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the man who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was accused of war crimes and atrocities, and even has a terror group named after him in the Philippines.