ACN News / By John Pontifex
A LEADING archbishop from Iraq has received backing from the countryâ€™s president to set up a â€˜Council of Christiansâ€™ to address key challenges threatening the Churchâ€™s survival in their ancient homeland.
Determined to shore up confidence among Christians after Januaryâ€™s wave of attacks on church buildings across the country, Archbishop Louis Sako is putting the finishing touches to a 30-member committee tasked with helping the faithful to secure their place in Iraqâ€™s future.
Speaking from Iraq in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Sako said that as the councilâ€™s acting president, he had received express support for the plan from Iraqâ€™s President Jalal Talabani.
With a remit covering Kirkuk, the northern city where Mgr Sako is Archbishop, the council breaks new ecumenical ground, bringing together representatives from five key Christian denominations â€“ Chaldeans, Armenians, the Assyrians as well as Syrian Orthodox and Catholics.
Broken up into committees tackling key issues, the council will examine social, cultural and inter-faith relations, backed up by a press office to promote awareness of its activity and involvement from outside groups.
Archbishop Sako told ACN: â€œFor too long, the Christians have struggled to get their views heard in the main debates of the day because so often they donâ€™t speak with one voice.â€
The Chaldean cleric, who discussed the plan with President Talabani during his visit to Kirkuk two weeks ago added: â€œThe main purpose is that Christians should have a united front.
â€œIf we have demands, we should present them together. We should not be separated and thereby enfeebled.â€
The Archbishop said that a lack of unity compounded the problem of Christians living as a minority of just 12,000 in a city of one million.
But numbers of Christians in the region are being bolstered by new arrivals escaping poverty and persecution elsewhere in the country.
Archbishop Sako, an outspoken critic of a scheme to create a so-called â€˜safe havenâ€™ for Iraq Christians in the Nineveh Plains outside Mosul, said the Council would address topical issues in a way that complements the work of Catholics and Orthodox across the party divide.
Archbishop Sako, who said his council presidency was strictly temporary, went on: â€œThe risk is that the political parties will not accept the council. They think we may try to replace them. This is not our goal at all.â€
He went on: â€œThe problem is that the Christians do not feel part of the political process â€“ that their views are not being represented as well as they could be.
â€œThey are tired. They feel hopeless and disappointed because they do not know how long it will take for the situation to be stabilised.â€
Successive co-ordinated attacks on Church communities â€“ the most recent in early January, when a dozen or more churches were targeted â€“ have weakened the countryâ€™s Christian presence beyond recognition, with reports that at least half the population have fled abroad, leaving fewer than 600,000 behind.
Archbishop Sako said having a stake in the countryâ€™s future was key to the faithful rebuilding confidence.
He added: â€œWe have good relations with so many groups of people in Kirkuk. They appreciate what we do. We need to realise that our presence is not about how many there are of us but how we are behaving and what we are saying.â€
The archbishop said that he hoped the scheme would prove successful enough to be adopted across the country, leading to the creation of a national council of Christians.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity â€“ helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named â€œAn Outstanding Apostle of Charityâ€, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiativeâ€™s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Childâ€™s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web:www.aidtochurch.org