Archbishop Sako: the U.S. and Baghdad should be pressured to help Iraqi Christians to stay

iraq_-_sako_131.jpgThe West must welcome and make room for Iraqi Christians who have left their country, but at the same time it must apply political pressure on United States and the government of Baghdad to allow those who decide to remain in their country to do so in security and with respect. The Christians of Iraq are, in fact, a richness of for the universal Church, and must not be forgotten, nor abandoned, in the face of the project of the total Islamisation of Iraq, carried forward by the extremists. This is the appeal that Louis Sako, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, has issued in Fribourg, Switzerland, during a conference held at the university, the main passages of which we present here.

The Christians of the West must come to a realisation of the gravity of the tragedy of the Iraqi Christians. They are the most ancient inhabitants of the country, and a significant part of its culture. But they are often the victims of violence that strikes them in that they are Christians.

Iraqi Christians feel alone, isolated, and forgotten. They have no confidence in a secure future in the face of the great silence of the international community and of the Church itself, except for the pope and some European bishops. It is clear that many know nothing about the Christians of the East, and forget that they are at the origin of Christianity.

Just 30 years ago, we were 5% of the population; now we are 3%. The fall of the regime and the American invasion have created a very unstable situation: the country has become a theatre for terrorism. The educated classes have been dispersed. Since 2006, the situation has deteriorated even further. The extremists – the leaders of whom are foreigners – have emphasised their final objective of creating an Islamic state. They are calling for jihad, supporting and encouraging violence, and the explosive belt has become a direct way to heaven. The attacks on churches, the kidnapping of priests in Baghdad and Mosul, the killing of three priests, of two subdeacons, and of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul have completely destroyed the confidence of many Christians.

The exodus of the Christians is taking place in this context. There are 100,000 refugees in Syria, 30,000 in Jordan, many thousands in Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey. They know that their living situation can only be temporary, and the prospect of returning home seems like a dream. They are desperate. Many others, especially the poorest, take refuge in the Kurdish region in the north, which they were forced to leave by the regime of Saddam. The Kurdish government, thanks to the concern on the part of the finance minister, who is a Christian, has rebuilt their homes in their villages, but they lack sanitation facilities, schools, and work. In the villages of the plain of Nineveh, there are 7,000 families that have emigrated from Mosul, Baghdad, Basra. Rents are high, and many young people cannot attend the schools or university.

So what should be done? Creating a highly publicised programme for welcoming Christians would have perverse effects on those who want to remain. Those who leave weaken those who stay, and give further reason to the Islamists to pressure us to leave the country, because we have a refuge abroad. Encouraging immigration in this way means emptying Iraq, and perhaps the East, of its Christians. It means depriving country of this specific element of spirituality, of openness and capacity for dialogue.

The diplomatic and political help of the West must be concentrated on the United States and Iraqi government, and also on states that support the Islamisation of Iraq, to bring respect for the dignity of persons and fundamental freedoms, and to stop the persecution and ethnic cleansing.

As for the families that have already emigrated to Europe, there is the need to integrate them and legalise their permanent residence. For those who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, welcome should be extended to families that are truly threatened, or those that have relatives already living in the West; the others should be helped to move to cities where security is guaranteed, for example the north of Iraq.

The Western Church must help us; I believe that currently only the Church can do something, helping us not only with words, but concretely, to remain in our country. Priority must be given to the opening of schools, professional institutions, nursing schools, to the creation of small agricultural projects and economic and health organisations. This will certainly produce jobs, because it will nourish the people’s hope of being able to stay.