Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Overnight on 6-7 August of last year, hundreds of thousands of people fled the overwhelmingly Christian villages in Nineveh Plain, from Qaraqosh to Karameles, and found refuge in Erbil and other areas of Kurdistan.
To mark this tragic moment in the recent history of Christians in Iraq, Patriarch Mar Raphael Louis I Sako addressed a letter to the Iraqi government and parliament, pleading for concrete responses to a crisis that is getting ever worse.
For the prelate, it is essential to promote a process of national reconciliation and unity to achieve the goal of a lasting peace. "The authentic basis for reconciliation,” noted His Beatitude, “is loyalty to Iraq – the united homeland of the whole people, and not just for individual persons or groups.”
Last week, the Chaldean Patriarch addressed a prayer to Pope Francis and the world’s bishops, urging them to remember the tragedy of the persecuted community. In it, he pleaded for peace and security, "before it is too late" and the strength to “stand fast in this violent storm."
What follows is Mar Sako’s letter to Iraq’s highest authorities.
One year after their displacement, the Christians and Yezidis are still living in physically, psychologically and socially difficult conditions in the camps as their land is occupied and their heritage is threatened with extinction, along with the reality of thousands of dead Iraqis Muslims and more than three million refugees and the infrastructure almost broken.
Extremist groups that wear religious habits and use violence to extend its control and ideology are a danger to all. Therefore, all politicians and the members of the government should be committed to open a deep dialogue and provide initiatives for reconciliation and confidence-building and cooperative relations for peace, because military operations alone are not sufficient.
This national reconciliation should be based on certain structural and very human fundamental principles, because no serious project, especially a moral project such as “national reconciliation” can succeed, unless we have a clear vision for the country, a model for the State we are planning to build, and an effective mechanism to implement that model.
Our conditions are tragic and conflicts are raging. It is not a secret to anyone that there are forces that want this to continue until everything blows up!
The danger and its implications might unite the sons and daughters of our one homeland! Nevertheless, reconciliation remains the only option of our common citizenship.
The task of national reconciliation is the basis of everything. It is the essential condition for ending the conflicts and restoring cohesion to the national fabric. This reconciliation is to be initiated in frankness and in the reconsideration of our common march in the history. It starts with ourselves, passes to our brothers and sisters, and reaches our relationship with God:
Reconciliation with ourselves is our deepest effort to match our outer behavior with our interior most honest convictions, without dissembling our desire for unity and harmony.
Reconciliation with our human brothers and sisters is based on our consideration of one another as partners, not adversaries. We must strive to build real and honest relationships with one another by understanding, recognizing, and accepting one another, without seeking to possess the goods of one another or to cancel one another out.
Moreover, here we must seriously think about how to open the blocked roads, tear down the walls, and lift psychological barriers, so that we look at each other as free and responsible persons, with respect for diversity and differences of opinion. In this way, we become stronger and more united against the forces that try to divide us and draw us away from one another.
Power is not merely leadership, exclusivity, superiority, and acquisitions, but its purpose is to serve the people and their common good, especially those who are helpless and oppressed.
Reconciliation with God is a personal and social relationship that is achieved through our reconciliation with ourselves and our brothers and sisters. This close and most respectful relationship with God makes us reach to the depth of our relationships with our fellow human beings. It flows into our relationships with others as an endless loving care for others, friendship, and desire for greater community of open communication and strong cooperation.
The authentic basis for reconciliation is loyalty to Iraq - the united homeland of the whole people, and not just for individual persons or groups.
As for the oppositions found within the people, these are healthy phenomena if we learn together how to adopt them in a civilized way based on dialogue, negotiation and giving priority to the common good. These oppositions are integral to our rich culture and our historical social practice, as loyal, though difficult sometimes, but fundamentally human and joyful meeting place, where life flows more fully with respect for another, in the very midst of our differences.
Reconciliation means to take responsibility with determination and confidence, with devotion, wisdom and vision, and to make concessions for establishing peace, stability and prosperity in the country for the welfare of its people. Our strength today is in the strength of our economy and not in the power of the military armory. Our economy should contribute to the dismantling of excessively militant thought!
National and political reconciliation is an essential choice under the current circumstances, and requires a review of the existing institutions and their relevance to our time. We need to find new organizations, based on more adapted and effective conceptions of a strong modern civil state that is sustainable and representative of the best and most realistic ideals of its people. Such a state should not only be “non-collapsible”, but vital in itself, with self-confidence, and with care and concern for its neighboring states and for the community of nations.
• To promote a good economy that resolves unemployment and poverty and build a solid infrastructure and provide good services to citizens and contribute to national stability. This is their dream.
• New education and new curricula, and a constructive media, because through awareness and education we eliminate the extremist ideas that urge hatred and violence.
• Restoring the role of the middle class, this is of the utmost importance, because this supports social and economic mobility.
• Religious discourse that maintains its brave prophetic role in defending people's rights and defining its responsibilities. By its prophetic role, we mean that religious discourse of authorities should contribute to the development and stability of society, and direct it towards its highest values.
• The Iraqi government should enact a law to criminalize the activities related to contempt of religion and its holy sites, and forms of discrimination, spreading hatred and division, through various means of expression.
Finally, the desire for real national reconciliation is urgent in order to achieve lasting peace and to allow the displaced people of various affiliations to go back to their homes, their fields, their towns and businesses. What we need to achieve by this reconciliation is the boldness and courage of a political willing for a national and moral stand to save the country and its people.
* Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and president of the Assembly Catholic Bishops in Iraq.