07/20/2009, 00.00
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Bishop of Baghdad: "Christians, do not be afraid", but the fear of a new exodus remains

Bishop Shlemon Warduni emphasizes the "high participation of the faithful” in Sunday services, which took place without incident, but does not hide the risk of a "new exodus from the country." The prelate asks the central government for "guarantees of safety" and the Christian community "to pursue the value of unity”.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The Iraqi Christian community “attended Sunday mass regularly”, despite a “climate of fear for possible new attacks”.  “I asked the faithful to have courage”, but the “fear” of a possible "new exodus of Christians from Iraq” remains.  Mgr. Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, speaks to AsiaNews one week from attacks - July 12 last – that targeted several churches in the country, in Baghdad and Mosul.  

“It went well”, commented Msgr. Warduni. “There was a high level of participation among the faithful, both in the morning and evening masses, which recorded only a slight decline” The prelate urged the Christian community “to come to mass” and the faithful “responded with courage. "  

In recent days a feeling of “powerlessness and despair” is spreading among Christians, which could lead to a new mass exodus. To everyday problems, such as unemployment, concerns over restarting businesses after years of war, fear over the recent wave of violence is added. Msgr. Warduni does not hide the danger of “a new exodus of Christians from Iraq” and says that “this feeling of fear, fuelled by deaths, injuries and destruction is normal”. “I asked the faithful to stay – he said - but we must also give them security guarantees, job opportunities, a future. Without these basic prerequisites, what can we say to them?”.

In Mosul, the Christian community condemns the lack of a strong position after the attack on the church of Our Lady of Fatima, 13 July. Maroan Bhnam, a Christian in Mosul approached by the Arabic website Ankawa.com, wonders why “neither of the two Christian representatives in the Council” issued a statement of condemnation. He added that the representatives of other communities in the event of attacks, have “raised their voice: from the Christians nothing”.  Aiub Ibrail says he is "surprised" at the absence of the “local tv Moussalia, the first to film the scene of attacks. " Amer Petros wants “representatives who can be relied on”.  

Sources for AsiaNews in Mosul confirmed the deployment of forces around churches; the police has set up several check points to ensure regular Sunday celebrations.

The climate of distrust and general insecurity has led to the re-emergence of the project related to the plain of Nineveh, the establishment of a Christian enclave in the north. It would become a buffer zone between Kurds and Arabs and is opposed, with some distinction, by the majority of Christian leaders. Based on humanitarian grounds and security, it actually hides beneath the surface economic interests and a series of attractive business deals for the construction of housing.  

"We must pursue the supreme value of Christian unity – concludes Msgr. Warduni - because it is the only guarantee of salvation for the community in the country”. The prelate calls for the creation of a “strong” Christian leadership, which defends the interests of the people “working in conjunction with the Iraqi central government”.

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