By Patriarch Louis Sako I
The feast of the birth of Christ—bearer of justice and peace—building love among people, is one of the greatest feasts celebrated by millions of Christians around the world and particularly in Iraq. A true feast is always an occasion to remember an exceptional person or event, bearers of joy and hope. Such a feast strengthens us in our daily life. But this year Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas in deplorable circumstances, one the one hand because of the deteriorating condition of the situation of our country at all levels, and, on the other hand, because of what they have gone through as Christians, victims of segregation and exclusion.
For a year and a half now, the Islamic State (Daesh) is still occupying Mosul, as well as the towns on the Nineveh Plain. Some 120,000 Christians were driven out of their homes only because they belong to the religion of Christ. No one, aside from those who plotted this religious purification, could have imagined such a catastrophe. Christian refugees, far from home for 18 months now, are living in very trying conditions, in camps more or less without any kind of care except for what is given them be the Church or Non-Governmental Organizations.
In Baghdad, the homes of the faithful are subject to the greed of militia who have confiscated their belongings. That is what happened just a few days ago to a Christian family living in Palestinian quarter, in the center of Baghdad. The family was threatened and robbed in broad daylight!
From a legislative perspective, we are also victims of discrimination. To this day, the Deputies have not changed the terrible law linked to identity cards which forces minors born into Christian, Mandean or Yazidi families to become Muslims themselves if one of their parents follows Islam. The behavior of those who are chosen to represent us, our Deputies, have harmed the very heart of Christian families and their children. It is as if liberty and the most fundamental rights don’t apply to us—as if they are reserved for others. All this robs us of the joy of the great feast.
This situation is that much more saddening given that Muslims, according to their sacred writings, consider Christ and His mother to be “miracles of worlds” and consider Christians to be “closest to them in affection.” What’s more, Muslims continue to remind us and repeat to us that we are founding citizens of the country, while, in reality, they treat us as second-class citizens, and do nothing to ensure that public freedoms, equality under the law and the right to security are applied to all of the population, and not just a part of it.
Given the continued gains of ISIS, the Assembly should have countered the vision of Daesh by affirming that the nation’s unity and cohesion depends on the granting of equal rights to all Iraqis, making them one single family without distinctions based on ethnicity or religion.
As proof of this national cohesion, we would expect the Deputies to declare the feast of Christians to be a national holiday, as had been announced by the former prime minister of Iraq and as is already the case in Kirkuk, since 2012 and in Kurdistan. Naturally, we have expressed this demand. It would have been a strong sign of the promotion of the coexistence of all communities and the progress of brotherhood.
Unfortunately, this brotherhood has only been slipping away. Recently, Christians found themselves directly threatened. In Baghdad, on Dec. 13, certain individuals, likely Shiite militia, pasted images of the Virgin Mary on the homes of Christian families. These posters carry a message inviting Christian women to imitate the Holy Virgin and to wear veils. These posters are an assault on the liberty of Christians to dress themselves as they see fit. The Very Holy Virgin Mary lived 2000 years ago in a different culture and society—and the true veil is the veil of the spirit and of morality.
On this occasion, we want to be very frank again: we will not give in to injustice. On the contrary, we will remain attached to our land, and to our patriotism and we will continue to show love for our fellow citizens, simply because they are our brothers and sisters.
In Iraq, we will celebrate the birth of Christ, who will come into our hearts in silence and amidst tears, without public displays or festive gatherings; nonetheless, we continue to enjoy an inner peace with perpetuates the joy of faith, and the hope that, despite all the suffering, we are moving toward the building of a more just country and a better future.
His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, by virtue of his office as supreme leader of the largest Church of Iraq, sends his sincere thanks to all those who have supported human rights in Iraq. He thanks all those who have supported the Christians and who have made efforts to promote the rights of all Iraqis without distinction.
“Glory to God in the highest and peace to people on earth whom He loves.”
We wish for peace for Iraq.
This letter was sent to Aid to the Church in Need, 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) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)