We were all taken by surprise says the Iraqi Catholic Patriarch

By:Robert Ewan
Under the banner “Christian presence and witness in the Middle East” , the conference of the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches was held at the Notre-Dame du Mont monastery near Beirut, between May, 21st – 25th 2013.

The conference brought together some 150 participants from the Middle East and beyond, representing churches as well as regional and international ecumenical organizations. Among the participants was the Iraqi Catholic Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako.

The Chaldean Patriarch presented to the conference an invaluable analysis about the current situation in Iraq . His Beatitude highlighted the status of the Christians in Iraq, particularly in recent years. He also made a number of proposals for the participants of the conference to be considered.

In describing Iraq Patriarch Sako said:” with the exception of Lebanon, Iraq represents a regional picture of the whole Middle East countries. This is due to its diversity of its population, languages, religions and faiths.

He added:” The question I would like to raise is why this change from a nondemocratic regime into another nondemocratic regime. Where is the democracy and freedom? The change should not be so sudden and by the use of force but rather through a long term process of learning and responsivness”.

He lamented:” In Iraq, we suffered through many wars, with Iran, the occupation of Kuwait and the downfall of the regime. All Iraqis have suffered. The Christian also paid the price, with over a thousand casualties and around sixty churches attacked. However, the Shia and Sunnis Iraqis suffered a lot more”.

On the reasons why the Iraqi situation is deteriorating he said:” foreign extremist groups entered Iraq to bomb and kidnap for financial motives. Furthermore, there is the religious extremism, in its narrow-minded vision, endeavoring to displace the populations, Muslims or non-Muslims, whose faith-allegiance differs from them. It is my conviction that the Iraqi Muslims are more open-minded than the rest of Muslims, with the exception of the Lebanese Muslims. ”

He added:”By and large, we in the Eastern Church had no foresight on what was happening. We were all startled by the new circumstances, whether in Iraq, Syria or other places. In Iraq, the Christian population has declined from over a million to less than half a million.”

On how the Christians should move forward the Patriarch said:” It presents a very big challenge for all of us”.He put forward to the conference a four point proposal as follows :

1. It is inevitable that we should act as one team. Since we are small churches, we are unable to achieve much should we remain isolated from each other.

2. We are in need of establishing a team of expertise scholars who will assist us in analysing the situation, recommending proposals and solutions, which we together can actuate.

3. We are in need of an extremely effective media centre that could actuate all the above activities.

4. We have a responsibility towards our Muslims brothers: we love them as God loves them, the Father of all.

5. A review of our teachings. To the present day, Christians as well as non-Christians do not understand our homilies and classic speeches.