Iraqi Bishops to Address European Parliament

Archbishop Louis Sako Awarded for Peace Work

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STRASBOURG, France, DEC. 9, 2010 ( Next week a delegation of Iraqi bishops will address the European Parliament in Strasbourg about the situation of Christians in their country.
«We want Europe and the West to put pressure on the Iraqi government to guarantee the rights of Christians and of religious minorities,» explained Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul.

The delegation will include Archbishop Casmoussa, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Atanase Matti Shaba Matoka of Baghdad, and Auxiliary Bishop Shelmon Warduni of the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans, L’Osservatore Romano reported Tuesday.
Archbishop Casmoussa affirmed, «We don’t want to flee and abandon Iraq; we want to continue living here, but in peace.»
«We are grateful to all the countries prepared to accept Iraqi Christians who are fleeing, but this isn’t the solution,» he added.
The prelate asserted that this situation of violence the country is going through «is unacceptable.»

«To help Christians in Iraq it is necessary to guarantee security, to be able to profess one’s beliefs freely and to frequent places of worship without fear,» he said.
The bishops’ initiative to go to Strasbourg is part of a series of actions geared to making the public and international institutions aware of the anti-Christian violence in Iraq.
Defender of minorities
On Wednesday, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq was awarded the 2010 International Prize for Peace, promoted by Pax Christi International, for his efforts to defend religious minorities in that country.

A communiqué from the organization noted that the prelate «is one of the most prominent defenders of minorities in danger in Iraq and a firm advocate of the difficult democratization and process of reconciliation in Iraq.»
Archbishop Sako received the prize in Paris at the headquarters of the Bishops’ Conference of France not as something solely personal but on behalf of the Christians of Iraq.
In statements on Vatican Radio, the prelate said that «without dialogue, without this culture and opening to peace and respect of the other, there are no solutions, only barriers.»
He also pointed out that this prize comes on the eve of Christmas and after the Muslim celebration of the feast of sacrifice.
In this sense, the archbishop explained that «for us, Christmas is the feast of peace and the message of heaven is ‘peace on earth.'»
«Peace is an indispensable need of our life, a necessity,» he affirmed. «We are all called to be builders of peace.»
Archbishop Sako said that «the prize invites all Christians and all Iraqis to bring about peace, to promote stability.»

He added, «Without peace there is no life, no liberty, no dignity!»

Ongoing aid

Meanwhile Christians of Iraq are receiving spiritual and material aid from various organizations and institutions such as Aid to the Church in Need, which will allocate $20,000 to victims of the Oct. 31 massacre in the Syrian Catholic cathedral of Baghdad.
This aid agency will send an additional $13,000 to Christians of Baghdad who have fled to the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah.
Moreover, $30,000 will be given to the Diocese of Zakho, in northern Iraq, to provide food for hundreds of Christian families.
The Chaldean Sisters of the Congregation of Daughters of Mary Immaculate will distribute this aid.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil expressed gratitude for the aid, and told the agency that Christians are living in fear, afraid to go to Mass on Sunday and even stay at home.
«People would leave immediately if they could,» he said. «The only thing that is stopping them is that in many cases they are poor and if they left they would struggle to find a job, schools for their children and a home to live in.»

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