10/22/2014, 00.00
ITALY - IRAQ
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Baghdad patriarch calls on Muslims to show more courage in a "common front" against terrorists

by Dario Salvi
Christians and Muslims must join together to defeat the Islamic State. So far, "fear has prevailed." For Mar Sako, a strong "public rejection" is needed. For Advent and Christmas, he calls for visits to the families of refugees, bringing sweets for the festivity to show closeness and solidarity. He calls for a "long term strategy" to fight bigotry.

Milan (AsiaNews) - In order to defeat the mindless violence of the Islamic state, a "common front" of all Iraqis, Christians and Muslims, is needed. So far, only "fear has prevailed," said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako who is in Milan for a conference after attending the recent Synod on the Family and the Consistory dedicated to the Christians of the Middle East.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that on several occasions, "I called [on Muslims] to take to the streets to bear witness to the real Islam". Since ISIS does not represent the religion of Muhammad, Muslims should show "that al Nusra and al Qaeda do not represent" the Muslim world. "We believe this, but it must be said openly."

His Beatitude believes in the Muslim world, in religious leaders who reject terrorist violence. However, a "lack of courage" in disavowing jihadist attacks, barbarism and brutality does not help, he said.

What is needed is strong and clear "public rejection" and condemnation of violence against the "innocent, attacked only because they profess another religion."

On 17 October, Pope Francis received in audience the patriarch of Baghdad who is also president of the Bishops' Conference of Iraq. The meeting was centred on the plight of the Christian community in Iraq, where the militias of the Islamic State have captured large swathes of land, especially in the north, through bloodshed and violence.

In the context of the visit, the pope promised a letter of hope for Iraqi Christians, who had to flee their homes by the hundreds of thousands and now live in desperate conditions in shelters and temporary housing.

"There is an urgent need for housing and accommodations," Mar Sako noted. "We have rented many units, but that is not enough, and the situation is likely to get worse with the arrival of winter, rain, snow and cold. . . . It is not possible to survive like this."

Funds and donations for the refugees have come from the authorities, international organisations and Catholic groups around the world, including the 'Adopt a Christian from Mosul' campaign launched by AsiaNews.

For the Patriarch of Baghdad, what is now needed is an actual display of moral and spiritual closeness, because this is what people want and are looking for.

"For a long time, we have been an isolated church," he said. "Now we need visits, examples of shared life. Groups of young people, nuns, lay people, priests in the West should visit Christian families in Iraq, go into their homes and among people. This can help more than money."

As Advent and Christmas approach, Mar Sako wants to meet Iraqi refugees and "why not, bring a Christmas cake, seasonal sweets, to each family as an actual token of closeness and solidarity."

Among the displaced, there is fear, disillusionment and distrust for a war that could last years according to US government statements.

"Airstrikes alone will not defeat the Islamic State, but cause other innocent victims," the patriarch warned.

Hence, many families want to "go away" and "the attitude of some priests, who encourage this, does not help and must be condemned."

Nevertheless, some small signs of hope are emerging in Iraq, scene of recent attacks and acts of violence that left dozens of people dead and injured in and around Baghdad.

"We are building schools with prefabricated material - four in Erbil and four more Dohok" in Iraqi Kurdistan," His Beatitude noted. "However, the issue of the Nineveh Plain remains unsolved, jihadist militias continue to ravage the area, effectively preventing the return of displaced people."

The patriarch of Baghdad said he hoped as much for "a quick solution "to oust extremist groups, as he was for "a long-term strategy" to fight fanaticism, involving imams in mosques, experts in Islamic law, and scholars who could "give a new interpretation to Islam."

Terrorists take advantage of ignorance, Mar Sako said in concluding. They call for jihad against the West, which "is empty, devoid of religion, in which - according to them - Christianity has failed, and for this reason must be islamised."

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