Iraqi Christians have ‘great hope’ in ‘tragic’ situation, Kirkuk archbishop says

ppsakoirak3103091.jpgKirkuk, Iraq, Apr 2, 2009 / 12:01 am (CNA).- Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako, lamenting the number of Iraqi Christians who have been murdered or driven into exile by persecution, has said that the Christian community possesses “great hope” amid the “tragedy” of its circumstances. A total of 750 Christians have been murdered in the past five years, including Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop Sako told a press conference convened by the charities Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Pro Oriente and Christian Solidarity International.

“Some 200,000 Christians have left the country. This is a tragedy for us,” he said, appealing for support to help the Christian community to help its members remain in Iraq or return to their country.

Christians themselves are concerned about the proposed withdrawal of U.S. troops, he said, naming the lack of security in the country to be its gravest problem.

The Iraqi army and police were not yet strong enough to take over, the archbishop reported.

“Under Saddam’s regime we had security but no freedom. Today we have freedom, but the problem is security,” he said, according to ACN.

Archbishop Sako called on the international community to help both Christian refugees and those Christians who remain in Iraq.

Many Christians are now living in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, a situation which the archbishop called “a great challenge for the Church.”

Families have also fled to small towns in northern Iraq where there is almost no employment.

The archbishop said it was “a scandal” that the human rights of Christians in Iraq were being ignored. Noting that Christians, too, are full citizens of the country, he said that they had been living in the country for 2,000 years and if they were finally expelled an important part of the culture and history of Iraq would also be lost.

He also reported that many Iraqis equate the country’s Christians with the U.S. troops, whom many believe have come to Iraq to fight against Islam.

Nonetheless, Archbishop Sako said Christians had not given up hope.

“We have many problems, but we also have great hope. We are not afraid, but rather we want to be able to live together with the Muslims in Iraq in peace,” he said.

A dialogue with Muslims is still possible, he said, but it must not be a theological dialogue but a “dialogue of life.” He added that it is important for Muslims to come to grips with the “responsible freedom” of man from their own religious perspective.

Saying that Muslims should find an interpretation of the Koran appropriate for the present, he said it is a problem that “Muslims are living as though in the seventh century.”

Archbishop Sako thanked ACN, Christian Solidarity International and Pro Oriente for their active help and projects in Iraq.

“This is helping the Christians to remain there, despite their difficult situation,” he commented.