Iraqi Bishop Hoping Faithful Home for Christmas

Urges Government to Make It Possible

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2008 ( What better time than Christmas for Christians to reunite with their families and return to their homes, says the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk.

Archbishop Louis Sako is asking Iraqis to do «everything possible so that Christians can live in peace and serenity» and proposing that those Christians who have had to flee their country come home for Christmas.

The prelate told L’Osservatore Romano that, while offers from the European Union and other countries to assist Iraqi refugees are appreciated, «what interests us is that Christians stay here.» If they leave, the country «ends up empty and weakened, without a millennial presence as the Christian presence has been.»

«Iraq,» he added, «is a mosaic of cultures, religions and different ethnic groups. These diversities should continue coexisting.»

Archbishop Sako expressed his hope that with the commitment of other nations, his country will be able to get through the critical phase it is enduring. «The visits, conferences, meetings — all of them serve the Iraqi cause,» he said. «Also the Church can fulfill a key role so that the country can recover its balance.»

The prelate noted that there are positive and negative elements to the talked-of retreat of U.S. forces from Iraq: «If the United States leaves now, Iraq runs the risk of being buried in the abyss,» he said, mentioning that a civil war could explode.

«Instead,» Archbishop Sako affirmed, «there should be dialogue and the projection of the country’s future in a civil way.»

As Advent begins, the prelate expressed his hope that Christians will be able to come home.

«What better moment to reunite and be all together than awaiting the birth of the Child Jesus,» he said.

The prelate will join with believers of other religions for a day of prayer in December. «We will ask Jesus to help us live together, to dialogue and to keep Kirkuk and Iraq from violence.»

«Dialogue and peace are the only weapons in our process,» he concluded. «It is true, there are deep divisions that still mark Iraq and [there is] the danger of a civil war. If the country abandons itself, the problem could be serious, but we trust in the Lord and in the good sense of the people.»

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