His Beatitude Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, has decried the prevailing situation of the Christian Iraqis.
In an interview posted by the Arabic-language "Al-Arabi Al-Jadid" he said that "the main reason for the continued emigration of thousands of Christian families from Nineveh Plain and other areas in northern Iraq is attributed to the hegemony experienced by armed groups and the fact this area in bereft of reconstruction." Stressing that the Christian Iraqis do not feel safe in Iraq, Cardinal Sako noted that the Iraqi government had used media to highlight the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, but failed to improve the living conditions of Christians where they are located.
Stressing that he does not hope to see the day when Iraq would lack its Christian component, he noted that this is a possibility in light of the ongoing discrimination under way against Christians by various parties, including armed militias, corrupt parties, as well as due to the absence of services, lack of job opportunities and a the absence of clear vision for the future.
He lamented the fact that ''most Iraqi Christians failed to return to their areas of residence, specifically in Mosul, which is attributed to the fact that there are armed militias, gangs, and mafias that openly resort to violence at a time when they are not subject to the law and when the Iraqi government cannot confront them. " He warned that these militias and gangs "represent a danger to the Iraqi society as a whole, and to Christians in their capacity as a minority." He pointed out that "their presence makes the Christian citizens fear returning to his homes from which they were forcibly displaced." He also decried the absence of schools and health services.
Cardinal Sako also regretted the fact that the number of Christians in Baghdad is receding at a time when numerous quarters of Baghdad had been populated by Christians prior to 2003. He added that discrimination practised against them as well as the confiscation of their properties made the educated Christians leave the country for good, while the poor families were left behind.
Regarding the current controversy regarding the outcome of His Holiness Pope Francis' visit to Iraq which marks its first anniversary, Patriarch Sako said, "The Pope is neither an official in charge of making changes in Iraq nor an owner of banks. The visit was very important at the level of discourse and of change of thought as he spoke about tolerance and brotherhood between Muslims and Christians, as well as the renunciation of violence."
The remarks expressed by Cardinal Sako draw a bleak image of the future of Christian Iraqis. Earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi was quoted by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) as saying that with the defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq (IS), Christian Iraqi emigrants, 'the original children of the country' should return home. He added that he was serious about providing assistance to Christian families and solving their problems.
Actually, the Iraqi government should in the first place create a safe atmosphere conducive for the return of the forcibly displaced Christians, according to Cardinal Sako. The Christian Iraqis want to live in an Iraq where they can be are treated with respect and not be persecuted. They hope of being able to live in peace in their own country on the basis of equality of rights and duties, on exactly the same basis as the other Iraqis, and not as second-class citizens. They also demand equal opportunities at work and urge the need for the attainment of security, restoration of justice, rooting out rampant corruption, achieving freedom of religion and adequate representation in government, in addition to real economic opportunities and investment.
It is to be admitted that despite the fact that "Iraq is not Iraq without Christians", yet what is important is to regard the fact that “an Iraq without its indigenous Christians is an orphaned country”, bereft of its civilized roots, culture, and civilization. Iraq is beautiful with its diversity, for with such diversity creativity emerges and the country is shoved into an era of progress in every field of life. An Iraq without its indigenous Christians is a barren land characterized by monotony and stagnancy.
Cardinal Sako's statement has set off alarm bells in due time where immediate actions are urgently needed to address the suffering of Christians which has been so long, to restore their dignity in their mother homeland, and to ensure them tangible promises for a bright and promising future.
It is important in this regard to recite Pope Francis prayer with representatives of Iraq’s Christian Churches, and members of Iraqi religious minorities, including the Yazidis and Sabaeans, who together invoked the Lord for peace, reconciliation and the strength to rebuild the conflict-ravaged nation.
Following is the prayer:
Almighty God, our Creator, you love our human family and every work of your hands:
As children of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with other believers and all persons of good will, we thank you for having given us Abraham, a distinguished son of this noble and beloved country, to be our common father in faith.
We thank you for his example as a man of faith, who obeyed you completely, left behind his family, his tribe and his native land, and set out for a land that he knew not.
We thank you too, for the example of courage, resilience, strength of spirit, generosity and hospitality set for us by our common father in faith.
We thank you in a special way for his heroic faith, shown by his readiness even to sacrifice his son in obedience to your command. We know that this was an extreme test, yet one from which he emerged victorious, since he trusted unreservedly in you, who are merciful and always offer the possibility of beginning anew.
We thank you because, in blessing our father Abraham, you made him a blessing for all peoples.
We ask you, the God of our father Abraham and our God, to grant us a strong faith, a faith that abounds in good works, a faith that opens our hearts to you and to all our brothers and sisters; and a boundless hope capable of discerning in every situation your fidelity to your promises.
Make each of us a witness of your loving care for all, particularly refugees and the displaced, widows and orphans, the poor and the infirm.
Open our hearts to mutual forgiveness and in this way make us instruments of reconciliation, builders of a more just and fraternal society.
Welcome into your abode of peace and light all those who have died, particularly the victims of violence and war.
Assist the authorities in the effort to seek and find the victims of kidnapping and in a special way to protect women and children.
Help us to care for the earth, our common home, which in your goodness and generosity you have given to all of us.
Guide our hands in the work of rebuilding this country, and grant us the strength needed to help those forced to leave behind their homes and lands, enabling them to return in security and dignity, and to embark upon a new, serene and prosperous life. Amen.