For Christians fleeing Iraq, a personalized prayer

I got the first CNN Breaking News alert while in the middle of learning how to cook shrimp creole in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Malaysia Flight 17 had crashed — another follow-up alert: likely had been shot down — in Ukraine. A little buzz went around the room as others began receiving the news via various devices. Even in the middle of a cooking class in the Big Easy, word spreads quickly.

In the days that followed, my phone buzzed no fewer than 28 times with more snippets of information. While a couple of them delivered pop culture news (sorry about James Garner, Mom), most concerned the downed flight or the escalating violence in Israel and Gaza. To be honest — and I think you can probably relate — there’s so much ongoing conflict these days that it’s hard to even keep up, much less make sense of it.

What hasn’t been mentioned in any of those alerts though, and what has fallen off the front pages since tensions again escalated between Israel and Palestine, is the continuing and dire plight of Christians in Iraq.

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The most startling example of late has been in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Militants calling themselves the Islamic State (formerly ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), gave Christians in Mosul until midday July 19 to choose one of three options: convert to Islam, pay a tax for remaining Christian or be killed.

The result of the ultimatum was summed up most effectively by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako who said, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

The militants didn’t stop there, of course. Southeast of Mosul, in the (at least formerly) mostly Christian town of Qaraqosh, they expelled monks from the Mar Behnam monastery. Run by the Syriac Catholic Church, the monastery dates from the fourth century and was a popular pilgrimage site.

Only last December, UK-based Liberty magazine featured a large spread by New Zealand researcher and traveller Sidney Smith as she toured some of Iraq’s “many treasures,” including Mar Behnam.

Pope Francis, during his Sunday Angelus July 20, spoke out against the violence and persecution, and appealed yet again for Catholics around the world to pray for peace. Since I work better in specifics, I’ve decided to give my prayers a focus inspired by my recent trip to the city with a rich Catholic history and deep Catholic heart.

In New Orleans, there’s a deep devotion to “Our Lady of Prompt Succor,” who is credited with helping Americans defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans 200 years ago. Prompt Succor means “quick help,” and the people of New Orleans still pray to Our Lady under this moniker for protection against hurricanes.

I figure if there’s anyone who needs quick help right now, it’s our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. So: Our Lady of Prompt Succor, pray for them. Please.