Internally displaced Christian children receive toys at a church in Iraq for Christmas – REUTERS
(Vatican Radio) Religious tolerance for Christians in large parts of Iraq has deteriorated after the rise of the so-called Islamic State. Under Sharia law in areas controlled by the Islamist group, Christians have been forced to convert or flee.
Fr. Samer Soreshow Yohanna Oaoc, the rector of the Pontifical Babel College for philosophy and theology in Erbil, Iraq, spoke to Vatican Radio about the hemorrhaging of Christianity caused by migration and the goal of Babel College’s Catholic presence in the country.
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Fr. Yohanna Oaoc stressed that migration is a choice that is being forced upon the people of Iraq because their lives are being threatened. “Christians in Iraq are suffering the hemorrhaging of migration because they [have been] attacked several times and displaced from their homes, their villages, their cities.”
He said that around 80% of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced persons (IDPs).
Iraqi Christian education promotes tolerance
In response to this crisis, Church leaders are trying to provide “pastoral support, financial aid and, above all, education for these displaced persons”.
“Our hope”, Fr. Yohanna Oaoc said, “is to give a message that we are here present in our country; we are not visitors; we are indigenous people of this place. We want to serve this country by providing education to IDPs and to residents of the country.”
The presence of the Pontifical Babel College for Philosophy and Theology in Erbil hopes “to promote education as a means to disseminate tolerance and a humane society based on human rights and tolerance.”
When asked about those Christians who have already migrated to Europe, Fr. Yohanna Oaoc affirmed his desire that “the hosting countries in Europe be more wise in how to welcome these groups, integrate them, and give them, not only shelter, but basic human needs in order to be newly transplanted in society, to live freely and express their faith and hopes.”