Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq calls on the West to help local Christians stay put.
Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako is the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq. The former archbishop of Kirkuk was elected to helm the Patriarchate of Babylon last January, with responsibility for some 500,000 believers. Officially, Christians — most of them belonging to Eastern-rite Churches — number some 1.5 million or 5 percent of the total population, but a decade of war and heightened unrest in the wake of the departure of U.S. troops has caused many to flee the country.
For months there have been highly disturbing reports of violence and terror targeting Christians — from Iraq and from the whole of the Middle East. How do you yourself judge the situation?
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: In Iraq, in Syria, and even in Lebanon and Jordan there is a feeling of great tension and insecurity. The growing Islamic fundamentalism is a challenge. Many Christians are waiting and fearing. In Iraq the situation has badly deteriorated; there is a grave lack of security. People die in explosions, and houses are destroyed. Even though it is a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, Christians fear being attacked. Some have left the country; others stay and are simply waiting.
What does this development mean for the whole region?
It means insecurity, a lack of perspective. A month ago we visited refugees in Turkey. And I just returned from a pastoral visit to Lebanon, where there are very many Christian refugees who have no hope, who do not know where they should go. We do our best to try to strengthen them, to restore their hope.
What does this mean concretely?
Many families are suffering hardship. In Baghdad, for example, we have divided the main seminary into apartments and made them available to needy families or to young couples who wish to marry, so that they have a place to stay.
How could the situation in Middle East be fundamentally changed?
A solution requires that we come together in dialogue and try to achieve reforms in an atmosphere of trust — not with military violence; countries in the Middle East must come to guarantee human rights such as is the case in the Western countries. The various governments have committed themselves to this in principle — but are doing little to achieve it.
What can Western nations do to help Christians in the Middle East? Some countries, have declared their willingness to accept refugees, for example.
The West should not encourage Christians to leave the region. Instead, Western governments and Churches in the West could help with the financing of particular projects that will enable Christians to stay, not least in the countryside. I have visited 40 villages in Northern Iraq. Believers there do not have very great needs — medicine, kindergartens, seeds, means of transport, jobs.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org