Iraq’s Christian leaders called last week on the European Union to help the country avoid a civil war that is threatening the future of the country and Iraq’s “very fragile” minorities. The EU heads of State were to discuss today the common policy toward the Iraq crisis.
In view of the rapidly declining situation in Iraq, the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need invited an Iraqi delegation to Brussels. It was headed by His Beatitude Louis Raphaël Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
Patriarch Sako, accompanied by Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul and Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Youssif Mirkis of Kirkuk, met EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy as well as members of the European Commission and Parliament.
Patriarch Sako outlined to EU representatives that the situation for the weakened Christian minority is extremely difficult and if no peaceful resolution is found, “Christians will be left with just a symbolic presence in Iraq. If they leave, their history is finished.”
The Patriarch further stated that Christians continue to flee areas held by jihadist militants in the north, though they “so far have not been targeted as a group. Muslims are also fleeing and they have found shelter in the nearby villages with Christian families and in church buildings.”
The delegation explained that the Christian community, despite systematic persecution and violence over its 19 centuries of existence, still performs a constructive role in negotiating between warring parties in these sectarian conflicts, while also facilitating various parties’ relations with the international community. Having not taken sides and promoting non-violent solutions, Christians are often mediating between different actors of conflict, trying to build bridges through dialogue.
“We are known to be a disinterested mediator seeking the good of the country. Where fighting groups refuse to meet outside, when we invite them to our churches to talk, they come,” said Patriarch Sako
European People’s Party MEP Tunne Kelam noted that the Iraqi crisis has made EU politicians more aware of the fate of Christians in the Middle East. “We cannot remain indifferent to their situation, the EU should do its utmost to assist them and create conditions that Christians, the oldest known inhabitants of that region, can remain there in conditions of equality and mutual respect.”
In spite of its vital role as the connective tissue of the Iraqi society, the loss of security and growth of sectarianism has made the Christian community a shadow of its former self. Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 Iraqi Christians numbered more than 1.5 million nationwide, with 70% living in Baghdad. Today there are fewer than 400,000 Christians with the majority still in Baghdad, but many of the faithful are continuing to migrate to the North in regions under Kurdish control where there is a semblance of security.
Patriarch Sako stated: “Under Saddam we had security but no religious freedom. Today we have religious freedom but no security.” Archbishop Mirkis confirmed that today “there’s so much panic that few Christians see their future in Iraq.”
The Catholic Chaldean leaders fear that the ongoing violence in Iraq is hastening the end of nearly 2,000 years of Christianity in Iraq.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)