Friday, 26 April 2013

Persecution of a sect

Written by  Cardinal George Pell

The Sabean Mandaeans are a small religious sect who claim descent from John the Baptist, Christ's cousin. Ritual baptisms are a part of their religious observance.

Many are Iraqis and since the fall of Saddam the gates of hell have opened on them. As a small minority they have been regularly oppressed over the centuries, persecuted intermittently with five huge massacres or pogroms of their people since 1870.
Now the Mandaeans are caught up in the civil war, the waves of killings perpetrated by the Sunni and Shi'ite militias on one another and others in the wake of Sunni terrorism and Shi'ite reprisals.
Iraqi Christians have also been battered with 13 churches destroyed, and numerous church buildings, including the finest bishop's house in the Middle East, at Mosul badly damaged.


A young priest whom I had met as a student in Rome was kidnapped and held for 10 days before release. Most feared he was dead.


The position of minorities in Iraq is drastic, although most victims are Muslims and no one is safe when gangs rule and the police are complicit or helpless. However, while Christians can return to their historic villages in the Kurdish region, Mandaeans are not welcome there.
The 4000 Mandaeans in Australia are good migrants, law abiding and hard working but many have difficulty in obtaining entry into Australia as refugees. Recently a small delegation of locals accompanied the religious head of their community, the Reverend Ganzevra Sattar, to speak with me, as he is in Australia seeking to publicise the awful plight of his people.


Dressed in white, and with turbans, their leaders also had flowing grey beards. While history has taught them to expect varying levels of oppression and even persecution, these have sunk to new levels and their position is desperate. They are subject to a campaign of kidnappings.
Girls who are kidnapped are forcibly married to their abductors. The girl's parents are threatened with the same fate for their other daughters if they complain. Mandaean women are also being brutally targeted in a campaign of rapes. Local Muslims regard Mandaeans as unclean and will not eat food they have touched.


But immediately after a Mandaean woman is raped she is told she has now been ritually purified!
Ganzevra Sattar himself was attacked by Shi'ite militia, shot at, pulled from his car and dragged along the street by his beard, while Iraqi soldiers watched impassively.
After being taken to a school building, probably as a preliminary to being shot, an alert Iraqi officer recognised His Holiness and explained the public furore that would follow any execution. He was then released.


The persecution the Mandaeans are suffering is real and deadly. I hope it will be possible for some of them to be admitted as refugees to Australia.