Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Christians took to the streets in Mosul and Baghdad and a prayer vigil was held in Kirkuk to protest the spate of killings of their co-religionists. As a single voice, they called for action against “targeted killings” and expressed their opposition to a plan to set up a Christian “ghetto” in the Nineveh Plains. Christian lay and religious leaders as well as countless members of the community came together to sound the alarm against the slaughter of Iraqi Christians and the flight of hundreds of them from Mosul, victims of an Arab-Kurdish conflict that could leave the country without its Christian population.
Following an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI in yesterday’s Angelus (a source of consolation and faith for Christian leaders), AsiaNews spoke to Mgr Emil Shimoun Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, and Mgr Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, at a fateful moment for the future of Iraqi Christians.
Mgr Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul confirmed that hundreds of families have left Mosul in the last few days, about 600 in a community of some 4,000 people, according to a United Nations report. “The situation is calmer now, and the exodus has slowed down,” the prelate said, but “we estimate that about 400 families have escaped.”
Yet, the situation continues to be one of great concern. For this reason, thousands of Christians took to the streets to protest against the violence. The community responded in a “positive” way, he said, adding that “the initiative went well.”
Christians have received messages of solidarity and affection, but the security issue remains. “We are asking the central government and local authorities for two things: more security for the community and proper investigations to find out who ordered these killings and who carried them out,” Mgr Nona said. “This would send a strong signal to Christians, a show that that they are not alone and left to their own destiny.”
Today in Kirkuk, Christians held a day of fasting. At 5 pm, they will take part in a prayer vigil, but only for Christians, to avoid being “used politically” before the 7 March election.
“The government condemned the attacks,” said Mgr Louis Sako of Kirkuk. “Muslim leaders did the same, insisting that the violence is ‘unIslamic’; however, we have become accustomed to such statements and want instead concrete actions”.
Indeed, the prelate did not mince his words. “It is shameful that in a city like Mosul, with a million people, no one has spoken out against the slaughter of Christians.”
All said, he is not without hope for the future. In this view, he said, “It is important” that all Christians be “against the Nineveh Plains plan”, even though leaders and parties have shown signs of weakness and internal divisions. “We must be united because it [the plan] is a trap.”
For the prelate, fasting, holding a joint prayer vigil, putting up flags and posters around the city are all part of this effort to stop the slaughter. They area also a sign of support for national unity, the only way to bring peace and security to the country.
“Today’s initiative is for Christians only,” Mgr Sako said, “to avoid the politicisation of the event. Until now, Muslims have been silent concerning the slaughter, but now they should ‘react’ and take concrete actions.”
For the archbishop, a power struggle is underway in the country, and “we do not want to get involved. Instead, we are fighting for peace in Iraq”.
In the capital, dozens of people demonstrated yesterday against “targeted killings”; they too called on the central government to provide security.
For Mgr Shlemon Warduni, anti-Christian attacks “are organised”. Christians are the victims of the “politicisation of the conflict” between Arabs and Kurds. “We run the risk of a holocaust,” he said. “The support and solidarity of ordinary people, even Muslims, is not enough,” he explained, if political leaders and the government do not take concrete steps.
For the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, the Nineveh Plains plan is a non-starter. “We shall not stop . . . live or dead; this is fundamental moment.”
Tribal chiefs and ordinary people expressed their “encouragement and solidarity,” the prelate said. For them, “Iraq without Christians is worth nothing.”
For Mgr Warduni, the government, political leaders, and the media must respond to “our alarm warning”.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Emmanuel Delly is in Mosul to bring comfort to the families of the victims and to meet local authorities.
Lastly, through AsiaNews the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad thanked Benedict XVI for the appeal he made yesterday during the Angelus on behalf of Baghdad Christians. “It is encouraging to feel him so close. He is a source of comfort for all the faithful, and his words are a source of consolation and faith in the future.” (DS)