According to a report from Aid to the Church in Need, a Christian charity, Cardinal Pietro Parolin -- the Vatican's secretary of state -- has warned that the millenial Christian community of Iraq is struggling to merely survive. He called on the world to respect the rights of minorities such as the Christian community in the conflictive country.
In a stark warning, Parolin said at a conference in Rome on Thursday, "We are all aware that the conflicts and tensions of recent years represent a risk, not only for the survival of Christians – but also for the very possibility that the Middle East can be a place of coexistence between peoples belonging to different religious and ethnic groups.” The cardinal spoke during the same week that a referendum took place on independence for Kurdistan, the region of northern Iraq where Christians found sanctuary following the occupation of the Ninevah Plains area by the Islamic State (a.k.a. Daesh).
Cardinal Parolin said that Pope Francis is personally concerned for the survival of Iraq’s ancient Christian community. He said: “From the outset, the Holy Father has followed with deep concern the tragedy of the thousands of families forced to abandon their own cities and villages due to the invasion of the so-called Islamic State, starting in June 2014…”
“The Holy See… has missed no opportunity to speak out on behalf of those Christians, reiterating on numerous occasions the necessity of facilitating their return and ensuring adequate measures of protection and respect for their rights.”
Cardinal Parolin thanked Aid to the Church in Need for the help it has give to displaced families who were driven from their homes. The group plans to rebuild Christian towns and villages destroyed by the warring parties. He said: “I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the support provided by Aid to the Church in Need in the three years since the ISIS invasion, which has enabled the many uprooted Christian families to endure this situation with dignity and in security. Your reconstruction project… is yet another sign of the concern you have shown, with a sense of urgency and with remarkable efficiency and organisation.”
The Vatican official added: “The process of reconstruction started by [ACN], and the return of Christians to a degree of normality in their lives, should be the primary and urgent objective of our efforts. This will allow the Christian community in due course to face up to other challenges that await them, so that they can be fully and generously engaged in working for the common good of the entire nation.”
Also speaking at the conference was Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad, who described the attacks by extremist Islamist groups on the Nineveh plain’s Christians as “genocide”. The patriarch said, “The real reason behind this kind of discrimination is the hatred of the radical Muslim persecutors towards the Christians, which has driven them to wipe away our heritage, destroy our homes and even to remove us from the memory of Iraqi history.”
Following the liberation of the key city of Mosul in June, Patriarch Sako released a statement calling on Christians to reclaim their lands. “Now is the right time to adhere effectually to the land of their parents and grandparents, their identity, history and heritage,” Sako wrote. “The fact that we are the indigenous people of this country and its ancient civilizations, and that our history is traced back to the oldest Christian Church in the world, should be kept in our mind always.”
Sako called it a “historic moment and a test for Christians” to renew their presence in Iraq. He also urged Christians to demand compensation for their losses from the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as the international community. He said that there is still “a long way to go” before ISIS is “completely eradicated from the region.”