Milan (AsiaNews) - "Do not leave us alone. Do not leave us isolated and abandoned": this is the appeal to all Christians of the world issued by Louis Sako, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, who this morning in Oreno di Vimercate (Milan) received the prize "Defensor Fidei" from the foundation "Fides et Ratio" and from the magazine "Il Timone". The prize is accompanied by an award of 10,000 euros.
In his impassioned speech (*), the archbishop recalled "the terminal exodus" of the Iraqi Christians, who are fleeing the country under the pressure of lack of security, misery, and "ethnic-religious cleansing" carried out by fundamentalist groups.
"There are 100,000 refugees in Syria", the archbishop said, "30,000 in Jordan, many thousands in Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. They know that their situation is temporary, and the prospect of returning home seems like a dream. They are desperate. Many others, especially the poorest, have taken refuge in the Kurdish region in the north, which they had been forced to leave by Saddam's regime. The Kurdish government, thanks to the concern of the finance minister, who is a Christian, has rebuilt their homes in their villages, but they lack sanitary structures, schools, and work. In the villages of the plain of Nineveh, 7,000 families live who have emigrated from Mosul, Baghdad, Basra. Rent prices are high, and many young people are unable to attend school or university".
Recalling the sacrifice of Archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho, who died after being kidnapped last February, and of many Iraqi priests and faithful, Archbishop Sako asked western Christians to "take stock of the seriousness of this . . . tragedy, and apply diplomatic and political pressure to the United States, the Iraqi government, and also to the countries that support the Islamisation of Iraq, in order to guarantee the respect of personal dignity and fundamental freedoms, and to stop the persecution and ethnic cleansing".
The archbishop stressed that Iraqi Christians "are one of the most ancient components of the Iraqi population. Since the beginning, they have blended with other groups, like the Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Yazidi; they were the pioneers of Iraqi civilisation. Moreover, they have always defended the unity of the country in a courageous way, together with their Muslim brothers".
"Unfortunately", he continued," recently the Christians have been singled out as scapegoats, to be exploited or eliminated. In some areas of Iraq, Christians suffer through emigration, rape, kidnapping, extortion, threats and killings carried out with religious motivations. This aberrant behaviour contradicts the humanitarian values of the Iraqi people, and the moral values of the Islamic religion. It must be understood that an Iraq without Christians would be disastrous for all Iraqis! . . . Forcing Christians to flee leads to the deterioration of the concept of coexistence, and to cultural destruction".
Archbishop Sako concluded his speech by asking the Churches of the world to help the Iraqi Christians stay in the country, offering "signs of hope": "The Church is capable of acting, helping us to remain in the country not only through words, but concretely. Priority must be given to the opening of schools and professional institutes, as well as clinics; to the creation of little agricultural projects and economic and sanitary organisations".
(*) The speech will be published in its entirety in the printed monthly publication of AsiaNews for June-July 2008.