01/04/2019, 19.08
IRAQ
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Parish priest in Baghdad praises Muslim solidarity against hatred and divisions

by p. Albert Hisham Naoum

The priest writes to the Muslims fighting intolerance to thank them. His is a response to the Grand Mufti’s statement. For the Chaldean clergyman, Iraqis must rediscover their "original essence" and go back to a time of innocence when they played as children unconcerned about their respective faiths. Meanwhile, many Muslims are helping rebuilding churches destroyed by fundamentalists.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Every Iraqi, Christian or Muslim, must rediscover their "original essence", i.e. their sense of belonging to the country as a citizen, against those who encourage hatred, this according to Fr Albert Hisham Naoum, parish priest of St Paul Chaldean Church in Baghdad, who penned a Thanksgiving letter to Muslims opposed to fundamentalism and divisions.

In his missive, sent to AsiaNews, the clergyman refers to the recent controversy sparked by Iraq’s Grand Mufti who told Muslims not to celebrate Christmas and New Year because they are "Christian". Conversely, the priest calls on Iraqis to go back to a time of innocence when children played together "unconcerned about each other’s religion.”

Here is Fr Albert’s letter:

The statements by Iraq’s Grand Mufti and the head of Iraq’s Shia movement, on banning Christmas and New Year Greetings to Christians, have sparked outrage, not only among Christians, but also among many Muslims. The Church, together with some of our Muslim brothers, has strongly condemned such statements, which do not express the spirit of brotherhood that unites us. Thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad on New Year's Eve - as they have done for a long time - to celebrate the occasion, hoping for peace and quiet for all of Iraq.

Along with statements harmful to the dialogue and unity, for the New Year, many of our Muslim brothers have called for the re-opening of churches shuttered years ago because of religious extremism or Christian emigration. The latter has affected central Baghdad as much as the suburbs and other parts of the country. Muslims gathered in front of local churches and expressed their willingness to clean them up. Many have posted videos on social media, expressing hope that Christians can come home. Such a show of brotherhood is a throwback to a time, many years ago, when everyone was united.

I would very much like the Church to extend a message of thanks to these Muslims. They represent a response to the forces of evil, which led to the seizure of Christiane homes and assets. They are a response to the extremism that drove Christians from their homes and churches. They are an answer to the hate speech and intolerance that have spread and are a positive sign for those who have been affected by a discourse that fuels divisions.

Today more than ever, we need every Iraqi citizen to rediscover their "original essence", which stands against arguments based on differences, but focuses instead on living and sharing every aspect of life with one's fellow citizen, for better or for worse. In Iraq we need to remove the layer of rust that has damaged the metal, which fuels trivial differences and hides personal interests. In Iraq we need to remember the time of our childhood, when Muslim and Christian children played together unconcerned about each other’s religion . . . How much I miss the days of our childhood!

So, let me say: thank you, our Muslim brothers, who have managed to preserve that "original essence"; thank you, because you have rejected extremism and have not let it enter your homes. On the contrary, you have opened some room for those who are different from you. It is us, on the occasion of this celebration, who want to send you our greetings, who want to pray with you and for you. Let us pray together for Iraq, and for a ​​return to our childhood innocence.

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