An 80-year-old Iraqi Christian woman who remained in her village after most inhabitants fled an Islamic State onslaught recounted the moment the jihadists threatened to kill her for her faith.
The woman, identified by her first name only, Victoria, said that she only realized the Islamic State group had taken over her town of Caramles when she went to church one morning as she does every day, but found it locked.
“Prayer sustained us,” Victoria said of the first four days after the Islamic State takeover when she and one of the other dozen Christians who stayed behind locked themselves in their home.
Iraqi Christians, who fled the violence in the city of Mosul, decorate a cross with lights in commemoration of the Elevation of the Holy Cross festival on September 14, 2014, in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. The annual Christian feast marks the recovery of the Cross on which Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 627 AD after defeating the Sassanid Persians. (Photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
When supplies ran low, the two neighbors, both elderly Christian women, went out in search of food.
“Inevitably they ran into IS [Islamic State] forces. Explaining their situation, they asked for help and to their surprise IS gave them water even after they refused a request to abandon their faith,” the Catholic Herald reported.
A short time later, the militants went searching for them in their homes and gathered them at St. Barbara’s shrine.
“You must convert,” Victoria recalled the men telling the dozen Christians left in town. “Our faith can promise you Paradise.”
Victoria and her neighbor Gazella said they would not convert.
“We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith then we are prepared to die here and now,” Victoria replied to the militants, as she later told the Catholic Herald.
Miraculously, the jihadists let the group – which included other elderly and ailing Christians - free.
They are now sleeping on mattresses in temporary housing arranged by a church near the city of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The Vatican on Saturday demanded that Christians as well as other religious minorities who have fled the rampage of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq must have the right to eventually return to their homes.
The Associated Press reported that Pope Francis summoned Vatican ambassadors in the Middle East for meetings on the issue.
The envoys agreed that military force was justified against Islamic State militants and that Muslim and Christian leaders should denounce the "instrumentalization of religion to justify violence," the AP reported.
"One cannot resign oneself to conceiving the Middle East without Christians," the Vatican ambassadors said in a statement, noting the 2,000-year history of Christians inhabiting the area.