by Louis Sako*
A day before the patriarch of Baghdad becomes cardinal, the bishop of Kirkuk looks at the signs of hope that appear on the horizon of Iraqi Christians. Security in the country is improving and moderate Muslims are more open to dialogue. Christians’ cultural and economic contribution is essential for Iraq.
Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – There is a tangible improvement in security in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. The army in co-operation with coalition forces now controls almost all sectors of the capital. Equally important, some point out that Iran and Syria are controlling their borders with Iraq and not letting terrorists cross into the country. Yet if violence has dropped it is also for another reason. Slowly the country is turning into ethnically homogenous ethnic areas based upon a design pursued and backed by the United States. Even Iraqi media have been appeased.
According to official sources about a thousand Iraqis are making the trek home from Syria—many are Christian families. Once shut down churches are now reopening.
In Mosul however the situation remains very tense.
Christians at home or among refugee communities are going through an emotional rollercoaster, a mix of fear and hope: they want to hope in a better future but feel they have no guarantees.
Turkey continues to threaten the north, especially since its goal is to prevent the rise of a Kurdish state and put off the referendum in Kirkuk.
In Syria there are plenty of refugees left. Just a few days ago in a conference in Salzburg (Austria), the Syro-Catholic bishop of Aleppo said that some 80,000 Christian Iraqis found refuge in that country. What will they decide? What does the future have in store for them?
We Christians in Iraq have lived through hard times. Many of us have been killed, kidnapped and forced to leave. Families are split and scattered in various countries.
Iraq is our homeland—we have been here long before the arrival of Islam. We are an indigenous people, not some colonial entity coming from somewhere else.
We have given a lot to Islamic culture during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. We have become part of Islamic culture and today we want to continue to exist in a spirit of love and respect for human rights.
There are signs that feed our hope:
1) The appointment of his Beatitude Emmanuel Delly, Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, to the office of cardinal is a chance for Western Churches to show their solidarity not only in words but also in deeds by supporting Christians in Iraq, helping them stay. Christians in Iraq and the Middle East must continue to exist and prosper in order to offer some of their spirituality, liturgy and ecclesial structure to Western Churches. After all, our Churches are the very roots of Christianity.
2) Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to the Holy See could be a sign of hope for better coexistence between different religions in the region. We got the same impression from reading the letter written by 138 Muslim intellectuals to the Pope and other Christian religious leaders. I believe that peace in the world depends a lot more on inter-faith dialogue than on nuclear talks. A truly sincere dialogue with Christians can give Muslims a chance to learn a lot from the Churches’ experience. Indeed the Qur’an itself says: “Do not discuss with people of the Book except in the best way” (al-Ankaboot: 29, 46).
Extremism and violence will never succeed in changing this situation. Dialogue, recognising the other as a brother, even respect for him for his very difference shall save the world from conflict. And I think something is stirring within Islam in this direction.
The time has come for moderate Muslims to speak up. They are in the majority and must promote interethnic harmony and religious tolerance in their own societies so as to factually demonstrate that Islam is a religion of tolerance and coexistence.
Iraqi Christians have escaped because they do not feel safe and have little faith in coexistence. But their flight is a loss for the Muslim world. With Christians fleeing so do their open-mindedness, skills and high levels of education.
The international community should help us formulate laws that guarantee open and tolerant societies in which each one of us has the right to participate as a citizen and where there are neither oppressive majorities nor oppressed minorities.
After all is said and done, we are still “waiting our blessed hope” (Titus, 2:13).
* Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk (Iraq)