By Daniele Piccini
ON the eve of the general election in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish Region, the head of one of the country’s biggest Christian Churches expressed his hope that political change will encourage Christians stay in Iraq.
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako, head of the Chaldean Church, spoke to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the elections scheduled for this Sunday (30th September).
He said: “From this election we expect a positive political change. Cooperation between central Iraqi Government and authorities of Kurdistan is very important.
“If it works, the whole country works. If it does not work, many complications arise.”
Of particular concern to the patriarch are the up to 20,000 Christian families driven out of their villages by Daesh (ISIS) in August 2014 who sought shelter in the Kurdish region’s capital Erbil.
Having lived in refugees camps since they were displaced, more than 8,900 families have now returned to their houses.
Patriarch Sako said: “We hope that a positive result from the election in Kurdistan can persuade many other Christians to stay in Iraq.
“I think it is a very difficult challenge because many of them left Iraq and are living now in western Countries.
“Their children go to school and they are progressively integrating in the society. Even if the parents would like to return, they probably won´t because of the future of their children.
“I think, it would be a good result, if we persuade Iraqi Christians, who are still living in Iraq as ‘internal refugees’, not to leave.
“For this purpose, we need to rebuild as soon as possible destroyed houses, schools, churches and infrastructures”.
The patriarch added that ongoing conflicts between political parties do not help resolve to these issues.
“Conflicts between Kurds and Arabs, who want to occupy the Nineveh Plains, do not encourage Iraqi Christians to stay.
“The road from Badnaya and Teleskuf, for example, is closed. We have money to rebuild the houses there, but families cannot get in.”
Patriarch Sako, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis on 29th June this year, described what Iraq’s Christians hoped to see from the forthcoming elections.
He said: “We need more employment opportunities for our young people.
“We need further help to rebuild the villages in the Nineveh Plains, destroyed by Daesh (ISIS).
“We need the government to increase and improve its services. Finally, we want to put an end to militia and corruption.
“We want to build together a democratic Iraq and to strengthen peaceful coexistence. We do have hope because things are just changing in Iraq.”
Patriarch Sako concluded: “We have to face many challenges and we expect that the new central government and the election in Kurdistan will bring positive solutions.
“Otherwise, people will lose hope and trust. This must not happen.”
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.
Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.
For more information, contact Senior Press Officer Dr John Newton on 020 8661 5167 or ACN Press and Digital Media Officer Murcadha O Flaherty on 020 8661 5175.