10/16/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Patriarch Delly: World has forgotten Iraqi Christians

by Yousef Hourany

In the aftermath of the murder of the priest Paulos Eskandar, the Chaldean patriarch denounced the indifference of the international community which, coupled with persecution, threatens to "empty" the Middle East of its Christian communities.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Outside interference in Iraq as well as in Syria and Lebanon, coupled with the international community's apparent indifference about the fate of the Christians in these countries, are concretely endangering the very existence of Christians in the Middle East. This was the view expressed by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Emmanuel III Delly, the day after the murder of the Iraqi Syrian-Orthodox priest, Paulos Eskandar.

Patriarch Delly, contacted by AsiaNews during his brief stay in Lebanon to participate in an Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Patriarchs of the East, talked about the situation in Iraq, which is not good because of "the interference of others in the life of a country which used to be, like Lebanon and Syria, a model of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, who lived harmoniously for more than 1,400 years." The patriarch criticized the "role of the international community that is unable to control the dramatic situation in the country". In an appeal to Iraq to return to peace and concord, he exhorted all men of goodwill to reinforce their support for its small Christian community.

Delly called for reflection on the forced exodus of many Christians because of persecution and the international community's indifference. "There is the danger that the Middle East, the blessed land of God, will be emptied of its Christian presence," he said. Already 80% have gone away, he continued, appealing for immediate aid to protect this "minority suffering because of the fratricidal war that has afflicted the country for many years". Their departure is a "big loss not only for Iraq but for the cause of humankind, and it will have serious consequences for Muslims too." Therefore, "let us defend the Christian presence in Iraq" despite the high price demanded of them by enemies of tolerance, forgiveness and welcome.

Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church for more than two years, pointed to the "need to keep the flame of the Christian presence burning in the land of Abraham", exhorting Christians not to abandon the fertile land of Iraq. Delly recalled the commitment of the Holy See, which did not leave a single stone unturned in its efforts for a pacific Christian presence, with several missions undertaken by papal envoys since the start of the war.

In Delly's words, there is "continual violence" in today's Iraq, which does not spare civilians, women and children, and which is destroying "the land and innocent men". This makes the recently murdered priest, Fr Paulos Eskandar, all the more worthy of admiration as he refused to leave his flock despite all the threats he received. He showed "the strength of his faith in Christ, Lord of History", also refusing to deny his faith. By his example, Christians "may learn to forgive and to persevere despite threats and challenges".

During his stay in Lebanon, Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly visited the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, at the seat of the patriarchate in Bkerke. Delly was accompanied by the Chaldean Bishop of Lebanon, Mgr Michael Kasargi, and by the Chaldean Exarch in Europe, Mgr Philippe Najem. He affirmed the attachment of all Christians of the East to Lebanon, described as a "message" by the late lamented Pope John Paul II, who believed that the "Christian presence in Lebanon is a necessary condition to protect the presence of Christians across the Middle East".

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