Kirkuk: Mgr Sako promotes Muslim-Christian dialogue amid continuing violence
by Joseph Mahmoud
Chaldean archbishopric organises Holy Week meeting of religious and political leaders. A Lebanese priest talks about how to build a multiethnic and multicultural society. A Christian shop owner is abducted in Mosul. A young Yazidi is gunned down.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - The Chaldean Archbishopric of Kirkuk is organising a meeting of ethnic and religious leaders during Holy Week in order to promote dialogue and exchanges between various religious and institutions. The goal is provide an opportunity for exchanges on the eve of Easter, a key date on the Christian liturgical calendar. Sadly, violence, attacks and persecution of minorities continue in northern Iraq. On Monday evening, a 40-year-old Christian was abducted in front of his shop-so far the family has not been contacted nor any ransom demand made. Last night, a young Yazidi man from the village of Khattara, near the Christian village of Alqosh, was gunned down.

Politicians from Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen parties as well as parliamentarians and city councillors, police and army officers, Sunni and Shia religious leaders came to the meeting organised by the Archbishopric of Kirkuk. Representatives of civil society, intellectuals, academics and university professors were also present. The hall (pictured) where the meeting was held was "overflowing with people," some participants said.

Fr Maroun Atallah, a Lebanese priest visiting Kirkuk with a group of faithful to celebrate Easter with Iraqi Christians, addressed the gathering. He talked about Lebanon's experience from the point of view of "living and rebuilding together" the country.

He spoke about what everyone shared. "We are," he said, "all brothers because we were created by the same God. We are brothers because we were born from the same father, Abraham. We are all children of the same land and have the same culture". As he concluded, he asked, "Why do we have to live divided by borders and conflicts?"

A Lebanese poet then took the floor to recite some of his work amid the applause of those present. The cathedral choir also sang chants and hymns.

In his address, the archbishop thanked people for coming to the meeting. "We have many problems," Mgr Sako said, "because we lost poetry and art, and have become accustomed to weapons". Instead, we must return to our deepest self and shared origin, "which allow us to leave in peace" for without a shared desire to live together, human moral, spiritual and economic development will not be possible for Muslims Christians, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

"Stability can never be achieved with fear and violence," the archbishop explained. In its place, reason must be used to face "our challenges".

"As Christians and Muslims, we must amend our vision and identity. We must look in depth at the present to understand the meaning of our presence and witness," he said in concluding.

For this reason, the Chaldean Church will follow Easter celebrations with a forum open to all of society's components to "talk about the future of Kirkuk and analyses the great challenges that lie ahead with wisdom and reason."