Tonight in Toronto a prayer service for the plight of Christians in the Middle East will be held in St. Michael's Cathedral. Given the news coming out of the region, it could not have come a minute sooner.
By the time many read this story the vigil will be over but the event should not be viewed as a single event. If it is successful, it will have a continuous ripple effect on the greater Christian community in Canada and, indeed, all people who are sickened by this insane violence.
On Oct. 31 an attack against the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad left more than 50 dead, including three priests. On Wednesday of this week, Christians in Iraq awoke to more terror as mortar shells and homemade bombs targeted their homes in several Baghdad neighbourhoods. At least five people were killed and 30 wounded.
Over the past decade, attacks on Christian churches have become more frequent but now the violence has been escalating.
The problem for Christians in the region is stark. It would make sense for them to leave their home countries and go to places such as Canada and the United States where at least they would not have to duck each time they leave their homes or shiver with fear when they bow their heads in prayer with others.
But by leaving, Christians in the region will become a relic of the past and that would be an historical tragedy. This is the part of the world from which the Gospel began to spread. It is not just another Christian corner of the world; it is the cradle of the faith.
Tonight's event is an ecumenical service and it is expected to draw members of a many Christian faiths. In heavy attendance will be Syriac Christians who now live in North America. A number will be traveling from the United States to attend tonight's service. For them the evening will be even more poignant because they are in a sense the lucky ones. But I am sure their news sense of security must seem like cold comfort when they know the ordeal of their friends and families.
The point of vigils can sometimes seem vague. People of all faith groups and ethnic backgrounds have been dying in bunches for generations. So in one sense, what is happening to Christians is part of a larger fabric of violence and fanaticism.
The vigil will not end the violence and I am guessing that the only really effective short-term solution is to hunt down the perpetrators and punish them to the full extent of the law -- if that is even possible any more.
Prayer is a great thing, but what is going in Iraq has really gone beyond requests to God. Christianity teaches that suffering is part of the sin of the world but that by faith death will not have the last word. It is an absolute truth but one that can be hard to bear when bullets are flying around your head or when you spend every waking moment wondering whether your children will be blasted to bits.
Because there are so many Christians in the world, many of whom live in the peace of security of the Western World, it is hard at times to think of Christians as persecuted. But that is exactly how Christians find themselves in today.
What the vigil should do is tell those persecuted Christians that they are not alone. That Christians in the West are sick to death of the violence against their brothers and sisters.
Stephen Harper and Barack Obama are constantly reminding the world that they stand with Israel, and that is fine and good and as it should be. But the time now has to come that those same leaders, and more from around the globe, to say they stand just as strongly with those Christians living through their darkest hour.
By Charles Lewis