10/12/2006, 00.00
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Christians' survival in Iraq increasingly difficult

by Mons. Louis Sako
The archbishop of Kirkuk tells AsiaNews that since the Iran-Iraq war the situation of Christians has become more and more complicated. But he urges people to be strong and patient. The importance of dialogue is expressed in a dinner during Ramadan attended by Muslim religious and political leaders.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – Large-scale Christian emigration began during the Iran-Ira1 war and increased all along the years of embargo. When Saddam's regime fell we were hopeful, looking forward to a state based on laws, governed by institutions that respected liberty and pluralism, encouraging expatriates to come back to work on reconstruction and prosperity.

The reality of what happened is quite different. Security went from bad to worse and a hellish cycle of threats, abductions and death set in. People have become apprehensive and fearful. A shadow has been cast on the very presence of Christians in Iraq. Emigration has dispersed the family and weakened the determination of those who stayed behind.

Our national and religious parties did not work together to calm people, urging them to stay. This is because they have had a narrow view of things. The lack of prospect for our clergy has come with the loss of an active and updated pastoral plan in secure areas.

The situation is worse now. In Baghdad and Mosul, Christians are living in fear. Families don't know where to go—they feel isolated, without protection.

Despite it all I urge Christians, especially the young, to be patient and stay, resist despair, assume their responsibilities towards the country and the Church, take part in political life to rebuild the country, make life together stronger, promote a culture of life, peace and security worthy of mankind.

We must serve if we want to save our people. We must organise a get-together of Christian religious, political and intellectual leaders to study the future of our society. We must formulate a political discourse that is balanced and engage in actions of reconciliation.

On october 9, I hosted a dinner for Muslim leaders on the occasion of Ramadan. In addition to the mayor and members of the municipal council, there where many Sunni and Shia imams, Kurdish, Arab, Turcoman, and local Christian clergy. All in all we were about a hundred.

In my address to them I said:

"I cordially welcome you tonight on the occasion of Ramadan and extend to you special greetings that stem from the faith in God the Father and the Creator.

"We, Christians and Muslims, face great challenges caused by the confusion that besets religious and moral values, from conflicts and wars.

"It is not good enough to condemn. We must react together in positive ways to build a better society in which justice and mutual respect for human dignity rule. Otherwise we'll lose everything.

"We must work together to change man's heart and plant the seeds of true values like authenticity, loyalty honesty and the common good.

"Reacting with vengeance and extremist views spoil everything and spread a culture of death. Dialogue and good will, a hand to friendship and solidarity, can change the world. For this reason we must be careful of those who would use religion for low politics and turn religion away from its noble mission!

"Our ties did were not just born yesterday. They go back 14 centuries. They constitute a relationship based on a faith in the one God, but also in the same mother-like humanity which embraces us like brothers who share the same destiny.

"This fraternal dinner for Ramadan is an agape in Christian terms. It translates the solidarity, the harmony, the tolerance and the pluralism in Kirkuk.

"Let us hope that it becomes the first of many more, every year; here as elsewhere."



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