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Published: Monday, 11/8/2010

Chaldeans in Michigan, Illinois rally over Iraq violence against Christians

DETROIT — Hundreds of protesters clad in black rallied and marched Monday to demand peace and security for Christians in Iraq after dozens were killed in a recent attack on a Baghdad church.

The rally in Detroit coincided with one in Chicago, where hundreds marched through downtown to a plaza in front of the Dirksen Federal Building. Organizers also said rallies were planned in London and Paris.

Chanting "Wake up America," ''Stop the genocide" and "We demand peace," the protesters gathered in front of a federal office building in downtown Detroit. The rally was organized by members of Michigan's Chaldean community and other Christians who trace their heritage to the Biblical lands of what is now Iraq.

"The message is this: This massacre is not a one-time event — it's part of a systematic effort to bring about a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Iraq's indigenous Christians," said Wisam Naoum, a rally organizer.

Chaldeans are Iraqi Catholics. Since 2007, thousands of Iraqi Christians have come to the Detroit area, which has one of the nation's largest communities of people with roots in the Middle East.

Several hundred demonstrators filled the plaza in front of the building and at one point spilled out onto the street. They held signs with messages such as "66 Churches Bombed in Iraq Since '03" and "US Gov't You Have Made the World Miss Saddam Shame on You."

Others held photographs of two priests who were killed in the Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad. As a man read aloud the names of the dead, protesters wearing white T-shirts spattered with red lay down on the ground of the plaza.

The siege that left 58 dead was the worst attack by Islamic militants on the country's Christian minority since the 2003-U.S. led invasion.

"There are some solutions we're asking for, demands we have to make," said Joe Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America.

Those include calling on the U.S. and Iraqi governments as well as the international community to provide better protection for Iraq's Christians. Kassab said they also seek a more secular, less sectarian Iraqi constitution that recognizes "other people sharing the land."

"Christians of the world — mainly Christians of America — they don't know there are Biblical Christians in Iraq," said Kassab, who is also a board member of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America.

"They should be helping them, they should be saving them."

The Rev. Selwan Taponi, who came to the Detroit rally from St. Ephrem Syriac Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he served the Baghdad church for nearly four years in the 1990s. He said it was important to speak at the rally and "raise my voice as much as I can."

"It's the least I can do for my people over there," he said. "Condemning is a very weak word — we need to do something. We need to raise our voice high enough to reach the government of this country."



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