Iraqi bishop despairs that Christians can remain in Mideast

Archbishop Louis Sako begged for help from the world's Christians as the situation for Mideast Christians becomes increasingly uncertain.

Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Iraq admitted that the situation in the Middle East for Christians "is worrying, as are certain things that one hears on the Arab Spring by certain leaders."  In a January 23 statement, Archbishop Sako of Kirkuk appealed to the world to come to the aid of Christians now endangered by the roiling and violent climate in the Mideast and North Africa.

According to Archbishop Sako, the "mixture of ethnicities, religions and languages"  in the Middle East inevitably leads to tensions and conflicts, because in that region of the world "a criterion of citizenship able to integrate everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity they belong has never been established." Political processes in Iraq, as well as Syria, may "worsen the situation," he said, because the security of minorities such as the Christian community is no longer guaranteed. Criminal groups and Islamist extremists appear free to act at will.
 
Uncertainty has led to increasing fear and anxiety within the millennial Christian community in Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast and wider Muslim world. Wrote the archbishop, "We wonder if it is still possible to think of a harmonious way of living together, " referring to the discrimination suffered by those who do not follow what he calls the "State religion".  This is a condition that, according to the archbishop, that  is aggravated by the various geopolitical parties: "The international community" writes the archbishop, apparently referring to the current Syrian conflict "believes that we can improve the situation by supporting an uncertain program to achieve democracy through weapons! The result is the clash between armed opposition and a system that destroys everything."
 
Archbishop Sako pleaded for help from the world’s Christians and people of good will. "It is said that Christianity has flourished here and that our presence is important," he notes. Referring to the Christian communities of the Mideast,  "these churches of apostolic origin deserve adequate support from the universal Church in their mission of communion and witness".  He added that  "international support, favored by the universal Church, would be a great help to try to ensure a decent life for all." 
 
Archbishop Sako, who leads a Catholic community of the Eastern rite, signalled that the Vatican plays a "crucial role" in guaranteeing “Christians the opportunity to live in their country." Christians have been present in Iraq since the onset of Christianity, just as they have in nearby Egypt. In recent years, they have been subject to ever increasing levels of violence, thus compelling them to emigrate from their homelands. Non-Christian and non-Jewish minorities such as the Druze and Ahmadi communities, are also subject to attacks by majority Sunni and Shiite Muslims.  Jews, who had been present in Iraqi Mesopotamia for millenia dating back to the time of the Patriarch Abraham were targetted for extermination by Islamist radicals in league with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Following the establishment of the modern state of Israel, they were forced to emigrate and leave behind their property and millenial culture in Iraq. Edwin Black, an investigate journalist who has written widely on the Mideast, wrote a book entitled The Farhud that chronicled the alliance of the Muslim mufti of Jerusalem and Adolf Hitler to eliminate the Jewish people from Iraq.
 
He said that Mideastern Christians must avoid the "trap of nationalism" and always propose the "forms of love lived and preached in the New Testament." Concerning Islam, Archbishop Sako said that Muslims "have to update the application of the teaching of the Koran."  He proposed a  "positive secularism" that "respects religion." The archbishop referred to the Declaration on Religious Freedom that emerged from the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, as a guide so that "human rights do not remain suspended in the air, separated from the concrete people who should be able to exercise them."
 
Links: The full text of the appeal, in Italian here.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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