BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai will lead a delegation of Eastern patriarchs in a visit to Iraq next week to show support and solidarity with the thousands of Christians suffering the advance of Islamist militants.
“A delegation headed by Rai to [the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of] Irbil plans to visit Baghdad if the security situation allows for talks with officials there,” Bishop Samir Mazloum told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He said the delegation will leave Aug. 18 and will meet with Kurdish officials as well as with Patriarch Louis Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq.
International alarm has grown over the exodus of Christians from Iraq after the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized large swaths of the country after taking the northern city of Mosul in June.
Christians, along with other Iraqi minorities, are reportedly being given the choice to convert, pay a tax on non-Muslims, leave the country or face execution.
While several Western countries, including France, have offered asylum to the fleeing Christians, the community's religious leaders in Iraq and the region have rejected such offers, insisting that the Christian community must maintain its presence in the Middle East.