04/01/2016, 13.32
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Bishop of Baghdad: Amid political crisis and violence, a peaceful Easter for Christians

Msgr. Shlemon Warduni speaks about celebrations that brought a "renewed hope" in the Christian community. Today a pilgrimage to Ur in the sign of mercy, in the company of some Muslims. But the drama of the exodus has taken on "frightening dimensions" amid political uncertainty. A cabinet reshuffle to overcome sectarian divisions.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In a difficult political, social and institutional climate, Iraqi Christians celebrated the Easter holidays "with renewed hope" both in Baghdad and in the north, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they have been hosted refugees from Mosul.

The faithful participated in liturgies "with joy and without any incidents of violence” Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, tells AsiaNews. He speaks of a Holy Week spent "in a peaceful atmosphere", with churches "crowded" and "no incidents".

During services the Patriarch Sako,  bishops and priests focused on the value of mercy, taking up the themes of the Jubilee Year proclaimed by Pope Francis. However, the initiatives did not end with Easter and today Msgr. Warduni will be going on a pilgrimage with his parishioners "to Ur of the Chaldeans", where "we will pray for peace."

"There will also be Muslims of Chaldean origins with us – says the archbishop - with whom we will read passages of Holy Scripture and a few paragraphs of the Pope's letter." We want to be apostles of mercy, he adds, "hoping that the Lord will accept our prayers."

Among the reasons for optimism for the Chaldean community, is the first, timid opening by the executive regarding the age old question of Christian properties, homes and businesses in the capital, seized or seriously damaged by criminal gangs and extremist groups. These targeted attacks and violence were denounced on several occasions in the past by leaders of the Church. "The prime minister - says the Auxiliary Bishop - assured that if proper documents are presented, the property and the goods will be returned or compensated. Let's hope so, it would be a great thing for Christians".

Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns over the executive, with the reshuffle of the government team. Haider al Abadi submitted to Parliament a list of names, from which the new ministers will be chosen. The nominations were made on the basis of "competence, professionalism and integrity," said the prime minister - who had to withstand the attacks of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki - and should lead to the reduction from 23 to 16 new ministries. Unchanged those of defense and interior, in the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State (IS).

 The government's objective is to restore unity to the country and overcome sectarian divisions that have led to the violence. The move by the Chief Executive, who is supported behind the scenes by the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, has been welcomed even by Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who has ordered an end to the protests of his supporters in the course of 13 days near the Green Zone in Baghdad.
In Iraq, continues Msgr. Warduni, "we lack security, just look at the fighting and the ongoing violence in Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul." Christians are "tired of empty promises of politicians, government and institutions. In fact there is a pervasive "fear", dominated by a feeling of "agitation for car bombs, suicide bombers". And the reshuffle within the executive "contributes to the uncertainty," although the hope is that it will mark a turning point for the country.

Recently, international organizations have released a report according to which the Christian community has dwindled since 2003.  From 1.4 million at the turn of the millennium, this year, there are only 275 thousand faithful, a decline of about 80%. "Speaking of numbers is not simple - says the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad - and we do not have an official count." However, it is certain that we are facing an exodus of  a "huge and frightening" dimension, a source of "great sorrow" for the Chaldean Church and that endangers the very survival of the country. "Maybe 80% is a bit 'too much, but it can be stated with certainty - continues the prelate - that at least 60/65% [approximately two thirds] of the Christian community left the country and only 2% of these have so far come back".

As long as the West, Europe, the United States "continue to trade weapons, there will be no peace. Wars are fought with weapons - says the bishop – first stop selling them, then talk about reconstruction, development".

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