By Inmaculada Alvarez
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The question regarding Christians in Iraq is whether they have a future there, or if it would be better to focus efforts on helping them relocate, says a Vatican aide.
Father Leon Lemmens, the secretary general of the Assembly of Societies for Aid to Eastern Churches, told Vatican Radio this week that the agency is following “with great concern and anxiety” the fortunes of the Christians in Iraq, especially after the February kidnapping and murder of Archbishop Faraj Rahho of Mosul.
The assembly is meeting in the Vatican this week, and will discuss the plight of Christians in Iraq, Armenia and Georgia.
The committee is linked to the Sacred Congregation for Eastern Churches. Its mission is to unite material aid for the purpose of providing assistance to Eastern Churches.
Regarding the Christians in Iraq, Father Lemmens said “various agencies are helping, both with material and pastoral care, over 150,000 Iraqi Christians who have sought refuge in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The big question now is if these people have the possibility of a future in Iraq, or if it would be better, instead, to receive them in our European countries.”
The priest explained that Christians who have stayed in the country are also being helped, especially in Kurdistan in the north, where many have sought refuge. “To enable them to remain in the country, it is necessary to create economic activities for them which will allow them to earn a living. Several agencies are working on this.”
Father Lemmens said the agency is also discussion how to help Christians in Armenia and Georgia. He explained that the collapse of the Communist regime has made possible the rebirth of Catholic communities in these countries, though they still need much support.
“In Armenia, the Catholic Church was suppressed. The last priest died in 1975,” he said. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 it has been necessary “to identify and gather the faithful, re-purchase or build churches, form the faithful and foster vocations to the priesthood,” the priest continued.
“Thanks to the collaboration of several agencies, among them Renovabis, Aid to the Church in Need, l’Oeuvre de l’Orient, there are in Armenia today 15 parishes and close to 180,000 faithful; and the Catholic Church has the official recognition of the state,” said Father Lemmens.
In Georgia, however, the Church is not recognized by the state, and relations with the Orthodox Church is delicate.
“On the economic and social plane, the separation from the Soviet Union was dramatic both for Georgia as well as Armenia,” said the priest. “People live in great poverty. Over these years, 20% of Georgia’s population — mainly young adults — has emigrated, which has made the situation in the country that much more serious.”
The Assembly of Societies for Aid to Eastern Churches meeting opened Wednesday with a Mass celebrated at the altar dedicated to Pope John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Easter Chruches, presided.
Cardinal Sandri highlighted John XXIII’s “profound love for the Christian East,” which stemmed from its “fidelity to the Tradition of the Church.”
He said: “John XXIII always wanted to return to the sources; in the Christian East he saw to a high degree the stamp of the origins. Therefore, as the Christian origins were common, he learned to familiarize himself with the whole Christian world, noting that the vocation to holiness, namely, communion with God, should be shown by Christians to the whole of humanity. Hence his uncontainable passion for the unity of Christ’s disciples.”