By BosNewsLife Amercas and Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD (BosNewsLife)-- Iraqi diplomats, Christians and religious groups were among those expected to attend a prayer vigil Monday, February 14, in front of the White House to support "persecuted Christians and religious freedom for all in Iraq," organizers said.
Staff from the Iraqi Embassy in Washington D.C. and Iraqi Christians were to participate via a conference call link from their locations.
The prayer vigil, scheduled for 11:00 A.M. local time in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, comes amid concerns about deadly violence against Christians in Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians in the country are believed to have fled their homes, in many cases to neighboring countries. There is also a modern day exodus of Christians to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north following new attacks, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
By the end of January, 1,078 families had moved to the three provinces that comprise Iraqi Kurdistan since an October 31 attack on a church in Baghdad by militants linked to terror group Al-Qaeda left 44 worshippers and two priests dead, the IOM said.
Just 10 days after the siege, a series of attacks against Christian shops and homes in Baghdad killed six and left 33 wounded. And on December 31, violence against 15 Christian homes in several Baghdad neighborhoods left two dead, further boosting the number of refugees.
Christians say they have been attacked for reasons ranging from their alleged support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism or following a ''Western religion'' or as part of kidnappings to extort money from relatives.
Between at least 750,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, but as violence continues that figure now is estimated by Christian leaders at 400,000, French news agency AFP reported.
Arab leaders have officially said Christians are equal members of society in the region and deserve equal protection.
However church leaders in Baghdad say despite pledges from top Iraqi government officials that security will improve, Christians are afraid and are leaving the country.
ROGATION OF NINEVITES
Monday's prayer event for persecuted Iraqi Christians was to begin with the observance of "The Rogation of the Ninevites", one of the oldest religious rituals. The "Rogation" finds its ancient roots in the Prophet Jonah and is observed by Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Churches in Iraq and around the world, organizers explained.
The "Rogation" is February 14-16 and includes three days of "fasting, prayer and repentance," Christians said.
There will be "Rogation" observances all across America praying for religious freedom in Iraq. The groups will also be praying for religious freedom and liberty in Iraq for all religious minorities.
The director of mission group Hillside Missions, Kris Keating, is among speakers attending the prayer vigil via a link from Iraq and was expected to lead the prayer from that troubled nation. "Hillside Missions Organization is in Iraq...to be invested in the cause of religious freedom for the benefit of the Iraqi people," he explained in a statement.
"The people of Iraq need to be free to choose and express their faith without fear of persecution." He said Monday's initiative was part of efforts to urge the international community to "act in order to prevent the extinction of religious minorities in Iraq," which he added, has "a rich Christian heritage."