BAGHDAD, Iraq, NOV. 21, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Despite a 12-year embargo, the specter of war, and the exodus of many people, the Chaldean faithful of Iraq are keeping close to their vigorous faith.
The Apostle Thomas’ evangelizing activity between the years A.D. 42 and 49 came to fruition in what today is the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchal Church. This Church has kept the faith alive even in predominantly Muslim or Hindu countries.
To better understand the situation in Iraq, the Fides missionary agency interviewed Monsignor Antonios Aziz Mina, recently appointed head of the Office of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and responsible for the Chaldean Church in that dicastery.
The situation of the Chaldean Church has changed very much over the past 20 years, the monsignor said.
“It experiences the same difficulties as the rest of the Iraqi people, who live in misery,” he noted. “Poverty forces many to leave the country, especially the educated who have contacts abroad and a degree of economic well-being.” Hence, the Chaldean diaspora is growing.
The Church’s impoverishment worsens. Seminary formation suffers from a lack of means and priests.
“Yet, vocations continue to be numerous,” Monsignor Mina said. “In general, when a Church suffers and is under pressure, it trusts more in God.”
The Chaldeans’ faith is profound and deeply rooted. “Today, at this stage of suffering, they see no other salvation than in the cross of Christ,” the monsignor added. “I have always been impressed by the faith of Iraqi Catholics. They witness their faith with their life, within the limits established by the state.”
Despite restrictions, the Chaldean Church’s relations with the Iraqi government are satisfactory, Monsignor Mina observed.
“Tareq Aziz, vice Prime Minister in the government, is a Chaldean Catholic,” he observed. “Chaldean Patriarch Rafael Bidawid is much loved and respected by the civil authorities; in governmental circles he represents the entire Christian community present in Iraq.”
The procurator of the Chaldean Church before the Holy See, Monsignor Philip Najim, told Fides: “Iraq has always been a secular state that respects religious minorities, as the Constitution establishes.”
“In Baghdad, the patriarchal see, we have 40 parishes which carry out their pastoral activities freely; one cannot speak of discrimination,” Monsignor Najim explained.
“We live with Muslim brothers in a friendly manner,” he added. “We are all Iraqis and we must all contribute to the good of our country, although there are fundamentalist individuals who want to spread hatred and division among communities of a different faith.
Monsignor Mina offered: “Muslim-Christian relations are good, although every now and then there are incidents, especially since the gradual diffusion of a fundamentalist current in the Arab world. Although the common denominator of poverty creates solidarity, there is a risk that fanaticism will increase because of ignorance and misery.”
At present, all the population lives under the fear of a possible military operation against Iraq.
The “possibility of war is regarded as an absolute injustice,” Monsignor Mina said. “The Iraqi people see the effect of the embargo on families and children. They lack essential goods, especially medicine. On one hand, there is much suffering; on the other, the people suffer a kind of indoctrination which imputes responsibility for all injustices to the outside.”
The 1991 war caused economic and moral damages. Iraq was a rich country from all points of view: economic, historical and cultural.
“The embargo imposed over 12 years ago weighs heavily, especially on the population, which pays the price for its existence,” Monsignor Mina emphasized.
There are about 1 million Chaldean faithful in the world, half of them in Iraq. His Beatitude Rafael I Bidawid is patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. He is supported by two auxiliary bishops: Emmanuel-Karim Delly and the recently appointed Andraos Abouna.