Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN) was encouraged by the outcome of Pope Francis’ recent visit to Iraq.
“The trip has already changed how the majority society in Iraq views Christians. They have understood that Christians are not just guests from the West, but truly a part of the country and the region. Patriarch of the Chaldean Church Cardinal Sako has assured me of this,” Regina Lynch, Director of Projects at ACN, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) upon her return from the trip. She had traveled on board the papal plane as the representative of the Assembly of Organizations for Aid to the Eastern Churches (ROACO). “We hope that it will be possible to maintain this attention.”
Lynch would like to see further steps taken to improve the situation of the Christians in Iraq as a result of the papal visit. “The interfaith encounters were particularly significant. Of utmost importance was the meeting with the spiritual leader of the Shia Muslims in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. After all, he holds influence over large numbers of Shia Muslims in the country. These were very positive steps.”
According to the ACN representative, the important thing now is to take advantage of the attention that the country has garnered through the papal visit. “Worldwide, the interest in the visit was huge. The visit was covered extensively by the international media. I hope that this will motivate the international community to help Iraq, because the challenges that need to be faced remain enormous.” Lynch explained that there is a fear among many Christians that IS will return. “The Iraqi government finally has to take steps to ensure effective safety. They have to replace the militias with a powerful police force. Furthermore, the Christians who are returning to their hometowns after fleeing IS need economic prospects.”
Meanwhile, Lynch expressed hope that the worst period of Christian migration from Iraq may be over. “I spoke with the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Erbil, Nizar Semaan. He has high hopes that the members of his community will remain, at least in the area of the autonomous Kurdistan Region. In any case, the pope’s visit provides encouragement for the Christians to do so.”
Lynch talked about how she left Iraq richly rewarded and encouraged. “I was deeply moved by the faith of the people there. A woman said to me, ‘When ISIS came, we were ready to die for our faith.’ Would I be able to do that as well? The faith of the Christians in Iraq has a dual message for us Christians in the West: Let us be self-confident and don’t hide our faith.”