For Chaldean Patriarch, state secularism and religious freedom are the practical response to fundamentalist barbarism

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by Louis Raphael I Sako*
In Beirut, Mar Sako met the leaders of the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Churches. Together, they agreed to a major conference to discuss the situation of Christians in the Middle East. Past massacres and today’s tragedies are a lesson on which to base real coexistence. Reflecting upon the issues, His Beatitude shares his thoughts with AsiaNews readers.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako has just returned home from Beirut (Lebanon), where he took part in a meeting on 27 April with the leaders of the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Churches, including Patriarchs Ignatius Joseph III Younan and Ignatius Ephrem II.

At the meeting, Mideast Church leaders focused on the problems and difficulties Christians face in the region and the actual steps required to deal with them. They also agreed to hold a major conference to examine the situation of Christians in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East. To this effect, an organising committee was set up.

After the conference, on his way back to Baghdad, the Chaldean patriarch reflected on the current situation, and wished to share his thoughts with readers of AsiaNews. Here they are:

Here I am, sharing my personal vision from my heart and mind, about the current situation in Iraq and of the Region under the current conflicts and their implications; it is an occasion to think about it and eventually to learn a certain lesson.

These days, we are living the first centennial anniversary of the 1915-1917 massacres; the number of Christian victims included a million and a half of Armenians, more than hundred sixty thousands of Chaldeans, as well as Assyrians, Syrians and Greeks. And those who survived among them underwent the terrible tragedy of continuous displacement.

Inspired by the anniversary of this catastrophe and in the light of what the Christians of Mosul and those from the towns of the Nineveh Plain have suffered when uprooted by force and thinking about my recent visit, a few days ago, to southern Turkey (Diyarbakir, Mardin, Midyat and Deir Saffron and Tur Abdin and Dara and Nusaybin), a big question is to be raised: how this beloved region once Christian and wonderfully prosperous is closed to ruins today, with its Christian character disappearing definitely? What a tragic, sad and painful anniversary!

Let us start by pointing out the fact that yesterday the Armenian Church canonized the victims of 1915-1917 as holy martyrs. It is in fact an example to be followed by other churches, I think, as martyrdom is the supreme expression of faith!

The voice of every one of us has a double impact, when it is joined by all other voices, forming then a loud cry before a world dominated by indifference. A cry gathering all voices around this question: How come the world did not deal with that horrible incident of massacres, in an appropriate way, a hundred years ago? And today, after a hundred years, despite the evolution of the media, why the world is not seriously reacting neither towards the dramatic uprooting of 120,000 Iraqi Christians from their towns and homes, nor towards the Syrians’ tragedies and the crimes committed against the Copts and Ethiopians who were killed, slaughtered like sheep in Libya. These acts reached, indeed, the level of crimes against humanity and were broadcasted.

On the other hand, since voices have a weak impact when isolated, here we are today as small churches lacking a common harmonious vision and an appropriate planning. From the political level, we lack a strong political authority enabling our people to take practical steps towards the vital challenges that threaten our existence; In this twenty-first century, we still endure restricting social limits and harsh rules (a glaring example of this: the Law of Personal Status). Besides all these, the Immigration is seriously harming our existence and uprooting us entirely.

Faced with this, we are all deeply concerned that these acts of barbarism will not be repeated in the future. Actually, it seems that the conflict will continue, which invites us strongly to be united as a team in order to work for strengthening our existence and protecting our nation and our rights on solid foundations; therefore, I would suggest the following points for reflection and discussion:

1. To claim for constitutional legitimacy, with Human Rights as the main criteria and by making it effective under a civil state, which will be the sovereign authority, applying the law equally to everyone. Here I am, considering the civil state in neighbouring Turkey, wishing that this country followed its principles in a modern way; there, the state is separating religion from politics and giving the credit only to the common national identity. I would see in that, an example that can be imitated in accordance with Jesus Christ`s saying: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” while Muslims repeat “Religion is for God and the homeland for all”. In this kind of state, there is a respect to religion as a matter concerning every individual and every community providing that the country would be the principle umbrella for all.

Is not religion a personal relationship with God, based on stable principles? While politics is moving in accordance with different interests?

Consequently, it should be left to people the freedom to choose which religion they may consider appropriate to them for there should not be any compulsion in religion! Religion should not be imposed by force, but rather by a shining and convincing testimony.

It would be greatly desirable that the Arabic Countries would follow the initiative of Tunisia and the Palestine Authority, in cancelling the rubric of religion in official documents!

2. A Secure zone: We are invited to encourage by all means, a good awareness to the need of respecting diversity. It is really a promising factor to see that the constitution of the Central Government and of the Kurdistan region include articles that safeguard the rights of all of the components, enabling them to exercise their specificities throughout different administrative divisions, which provides for Christians a good opportunity to establish their presence on a legal basis for their self- defence, to protect their history, heritage and identity; as well as to find ways of a positive cohabitation with their fellow citizens, regardless their different doctrinal denominations and religions. This would apply to all; either they are a majority or minority, enabling them to live in freedom, equality and dignity. Days have shown how much Christians are keen on the integral unity of their homeland, and how much they are committed to live in peace with their fellow citizens; all this would encourage the expatriate Iraqis to carry out investment projects!

3. All of us have to persist in our efforts to ensure the return of displaced Christians with other ethnic minorities, after the liberation of their villages and lands, as well as compensating them for the damages caused to their properties; protecting their presence through a secure zone which would have clear boundaries in the Nineveh Plain; enabling them to administrate it alongside Yazidi, Shabak and others; providing the elements of a self-protection guaranteed from the Central and Regional Governments of Iraq, within an international safeguard, through a protocol established for this purpose.

4. The sad situation of these displaced people is calling upon the conscience of the world that this land is their land; it is a precious gift from God and they are rooted in it. Therefore they should not look beyond their borders, since the emigration to different parts of the world and the fact of adopting the new social ways of life, would gradually weaken the vitality of their existence and let them lose their roots, their history, as well as their linguistic, social and ecclesial ties!

* Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Iraq,-state-secularism-and-religious-freedom-are-the-practical-response-to-fundamentalist-barbarism-34123.html