Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "Help Christian villages in the north of Iraq," pleaded Mar Rapheal Luis Sako I, patriarch of the Chaldean Church, during his pastoral visit to the Joint Diocese of Zakho and Emmadea on 15-23 August.
Some 40 local villages and towns face a major crisis because of Shia-Sunni confrontation in Iraq and Syria. Already hampered by the lack of water and electricity, residents have almost no access to medical care in hospitals or clinics.
"These villages are in dire need, and we call on our benefactors, from all the dioceses and Chaldean churches, to help the Christian population, because their presence is very important," the patriarch said.
In recent months, the diocese of Mosul, Kirkuk, Zackho, Emmadea and Erbil have experienced first-hand the Shia-Sunni conflict in Syria, the confrontation between Iraq's central and provincial governments over oil resources and the attacks by Muslim extremists against civilians, including Christians.
In recent years, hundreds of families have fled the country finding refuge in the West or in other countries of the Middle East. At the same time, many thousands of Syrian Muslim Kurds fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.
In a pastoral letter to the Christians of northern Iraq, the Chaldean patriarch stressed the importance of the Christian presence, them to resist and not to flee.
"Christians in Kurdistan are indigenous citizens," he explained. "They have deep roots that cannot be eradicated for they go back two thousand years. Several of them have sacrificed their lives along with their Muslim brothers for freedom, dignity, and coexistence."
For Patriarch Sako, Christians are a key factor in preserving the cultural and religious pluralism that for centuries characterised Iraq, the cradle of the first civilisation and home of the first diocese.
"I invite you to participate actively in all aspects of life: cultural, political, and social," the prelate said.
However, it is with sorrow that he also spoke about the great exodus of the Christian population, reduced in almost a decade from one million to less than 400,000.
"Do not sell your homes and your land. They are your fathers' legacy. You must keep your land forever instead of becoming migrants and foreigners in the diaspora."
As an example, the patriarch mentioned the story of the village of Akra.
"In my visit to Mosul," he said, "I met 35 families from Akra, who moved to Duhok where they bought a village called 'Romtha'. Here they built their homes, a church, a community hall and a school and started to farm the fields. "
"Do not be afraid of difficulties," the patriarch said, "because they renew and elevate your presence."