Aday of prayer is to be held tomorrow, August 6, in solidarity with Iraqi Christians suffering ongoing violence at the hands of members of the Islamic State (IS).
August 6 marks the Feast of the Transfiguration – the day Jesus appeared as radiant on Mount Tabor in Galilee before his disciples Peter, James and John.
The day, celebrated by Catholic and Orthodox traditions in particular, is considered one of hope – "a source of courage when obstacles appear impossible to surmount; a sign that light is stronger than darkness; and testimony that death can turn into life."
Church leaders in Iraq have thus called for Christians around the world to commit to praying for an end to the spiralling crisis in Iraq and Syria, and to the violent persecution of Iraq's ancient Christian community.
Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the head of Iraq's largest church, has urged the international community to "unite our voices and hearts before the Lord of peace."
"May the light of Tabor fill the hearts of all suffering people with consolation and hope. May the message of Tabor, through our prayers, inspire the leaders of Iraq to sacrifice personal interests for the common good and welfare," he added.
Patriarch Sako has also composed a Prayer for Peace for the occasion:
The plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.
Glory be to you forever."
The Bishop of Clifton, Chair of the Bishops' Conference Department of International Affairs, has now also underlined this call to prayer, branding the Iraqi crisis "disastrous".
"We are witnessing today an act of religious and ethnic cleansing toward Christians as well as many other communities such as Sufis, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkmen, let alone Shi'is and Sunnis, as extremists drive people out of the lands that have been their home for thousands of years," the Rt Rev Declan Lang said in a statement.
"I call on our government and those of other states to prioritise action to save the Christian and other persecuted communities of Iraq and to offer them the help and support they need urgently.
"I appeal for your prayers so that God may show the people of Iraq his infinite mercy - comfort the mourners, bind up their wounds and heal the broken-hearted in those biblical lands that have been a cradle of civilisation."
IS fighters – who follow a fundamentalist strain of Sunni Islam – are attempting to form a caliphate across a stretch of Syria and Iraq. Militants are practicing extreme persecution against Christians, as well as Shia Muslims and other minority faith groups.
Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, was emptied of Christians last month after warnings rang out from Mosques across the city, insisting that Christians must flee, pay a tax, convert to Islam or face death.
"This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history," Patriarch Sako said in the aftermath of the ultimatum.
"The heinous crime of the Islamic State was carried out not just against Christians, but against humanity."