Christians in Iraq: The Future and the Hope

Address of the Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See

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ROME, FEB. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address given by Habeeb Mohammed Hadi Ali Al-Sadr, ambassador of Iraq to the Holy See, at the meeting entitled "Christianity in Iraq," held in Velletri, Italy, on Jan. 29. The talk addresses the present situation of Christians in the country.

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Christians in Iraq have been witnesses of a bitter period, that of Saddam, which resulted in wars, embargoes and disasters. Throughout this period, Christians had no voice, for years their will was paralyzed, given that the regime prohibited them from expressing their opinions, from forming parties or nongovernmental associations, which could have taken care of their problems and ensured their continuity, given that their respective leaders reside abroad. As a consequence, in the 90s of the past century, waves of emigrants left the country, fleeing from the inferno of the Iraqi regime. Coming to April 2003, with the fall of that odious "statue," Christians hoped to return to the flourishing garden of a free Iraq. A real paradise in which all hopes could flourish, which up to then had been suffocated, and where their true love for the country could be planted, which even now is full of the most beautiful Iraqi sentiments.

However, the enemies of today's Iraq are the associations of Saddam infidels who, after the capitulation of the regime, took advantage of the vacuum of power created as a consequence of the American decision to dissolve all the structures of the security services. In this way, they were able to sow death and ruin throughout the country. They have done everything to destroy from the beginning the project of the new democratic Iraq. In all this, it is clear that Christians together with their Muslim brothers drink the bitterness of this new war, because the country is stubbornly in a new war: the war against fundamentalists and terrorists. It is the most ferocious war of all the ones engaged in by the old regime. In fact, it is a war against ghosts, shadows, which act against the people taking on different appearances that enable them to be present at pre-established times and places and commit their odious crimes without being bothered.

Undoubtedly, what has happened in Iraq has happened in other countries of the world: embargoes, wars, economic paralysis, shedding of blood, the collapse of infrasturctures. This is the painful consequence of the process of democratization, including the challenges entailed in having to confront terrorism. It will be the general situation, which is particular in the true sense of the term, which consequently influences the people negatively affecting all its components.

Because of this, it is neither just nor equitable to analyze the situation of Iraqi Christians, abstracting them from the global situation and not taking into account objective data. Just as it isn't right either to ask the government to create an exemplary climate dedicated to satisfying each component without taking the rest into account, as if the others lived in another planet.

Hence, we hope that our friends in the international community will be able to understand the truth and as a consequence that they will understand that today Iraq is in a phase of its history that might well be the most critical of its existence. It lives, in fact, in a climate of violent war waged against fundamentalist and terrorist forces prepared to use anything that is at hand, from human to economic resources, to triumph in their homicidal intents. However, if this "Iraqi dike" breaks -- God forbid -- the flood of terrorism it would produce would drown the whole world. If this should happen, each and every European would kiss good-bye to the peace and stability they enjoy. The latest attacks in Moscow are proof of what I'm saying. This situation invites us all to support with determination the Iraqi government so that it can address this danger in the best way and contain the epidemic of terror, defending this "dike" and even making it impregnable.

Deduced from this is that our present war against terrorists is not dedicated solely to defend the security of the Iraqi people, but also to safeguard the security and future of the whole of humanity, that is why it fights in the place of the international family. 

For their part, the terrorists have understood that the blood of Iraqi Muslims, which they have shed like rivers, is not so interesting in the eyes of the Western media.

And from the moment in which, pretending to impose a twisted and altogether mistaken idea of the diversity of Iraqi society, and consequently annulling the democratic experience, and striking Christians, they have attained their evil objective. Without realizing it, the media and international organizations have fallen into this mechanism, playing the game of the terrorists, being concerned about the Christians, their future and the society's lack of development. The consequence has been the abandonment by Christians of their homes and emigration.

Individual actions don't necessarily indicate that there is an Iraqi plot geared to the persecution of Christians, to the elimination of their existence, destroying their cultural patrimony as some think. In fact, these individual action don't reflect the profound and secular coexistence between Christians and Muslims, as they do not express either the tolerant essence of the Islamic faith which calls for dialogue, respect of pluralism, rejection of violence, even considering it outside the way of Islam, as is written: "to kill a soul for no reason is to kill the whole of humanity." 

Moreover, "[t]he Prophet believed in what descended on him from the Lord and the believers believed in God, in his angels, books and prophets without any distinction among his envoys." In this connection, it is clear that a Muslim fails in Islam if he does not believe in the principles of his faith and in the message of Christ (about peace) and, hence, the Bible. Moreover, in its desire to preserve the Christian heritage of Iraq, the government has given life to a Christian superintendence at the ministerial level. It finances the Church with US$15 million a year from the state budget. In addition, the government has exempted the churches and monasteries from paying the taxes for light and water, as well as restored the churches and all the institutions that the previous government had expropriated, such as schools and universities.

In reality, the Christian component is the object of respect and esteem on the part of Iraqi political and religious leaders. They are all conscious of the fact that they constitute an essential active element in the process of the country's democratization. The official and popular position of the whole country is solidarity with the Christians brethren, especially after the recent and tremendous attack suffered by the church of Our Lady of Salvation. This incident, with all the manifestations of solidarity that it unleashed, witnesses the true essence of the close ties that characterize the national social fabric which has never lost its balance in face of these crimes but, on the contrary, reinforced them.

The electoral law gives Christians an advantage, reserving for them five parliamentary seats in addition to the ones it won in the elections. Christians in Iraq today have parties, circles, NGOs dedicated to the presence of Christians. In addition, they enjoy full liberty of worship, ensured by very rigorous protection which many mosques don't enjoy. They have televisions, radio and newspapers, whether in Syrian or Arameic. At the political level, Christians have ministers in the new government, dozens of vice-ministers, several ambassadors and directors general.

To put an end to emigration, the government has made different facilities available in the purchase of plots of land, access to loans, in the release of occupied houses and in the reinsertion of employees in their respective jobs, lost previously in the flight from the cities and from the country itself. In addition, it has made every effort to compensate Christians for all damages suffered and to exempt them from customs taxes.

Recently, the presidency of the Republic elaborated a decree related to the establishment of an office that would be concerned with the issues of Iraqi Christians and coordinate the security measures, as well as the economic and social activities entrusted to it. Prime Minister Al Maliki himself swiftly formed a Supreme Security Council to develop the necessary security measures destined to prevent new attacks. In addition he ordered the prompt reconstruction of the church of Our Lady of Salvation, subsidized by the State. Then he himself visited the ruins of the church and met with the bishops. He took part in the prayer for love and peace organized after the attack, visited the wounded in the hospital and gave them presents from the State to express his closeness. But not only this; his government reserves other advantages for Christians, which now await the approval of the Parliament and the approval as decree of law. This calms us in regard to the future of Christians in Iraq, which will be promising and prosperous in the light of the notable improvements that there will be in the country at the level of security and the economy which is already constantly improving. The new president of the Chamber, Al Nujaifi, organized special meetings to study "the Christian question," he also visited His Most Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Delly and expressed his support and that of the Parliament to Christian brethren, given that we are all in the same trench.

And we cannot forget either the posture of the president of the Kurdistan region, Masud Barzani, who has made a safe refuge of the whole region for all Christians who have felt threatened in Iraq, ensuring all the services for them: from housing and education to health. The apostolic nuncio in Baghdad, His Excellency Monsignor Giorgio Lingua, transmitted the Holy Father's greetings to President Masud Barzani for the commendable efforts made in this area and discussed with him the possibility of appealing for international support, with the agreement of the Iraqi government, to help the Kurdistan region cope with the weight of the present situation.

For his part Talabani proposed the formation of brigades of special protection, in which young Christians could enroll to collaborate in the protection of places of worship and neighborhoods inhabited by Christians.This idea is supported by Iraq's bishops.

The new Constitution guarantees Christians full equality of rights and duties, also granting them the founding of a private region suggested by them, wherever it is. Our government is also interested, for the good of the country, in reactivating Christian religious tourism and will be delighted to open its arms to Christian pilgrims who come from abroad to visit Ur, in the south of Iraq, where the Father of the Prophets was born (Abraham) peace be to him. It also wishes to develop relations of loving collaboration and understanding with the Holy See in all areas.

To carry out the general rebirth of the Christian reality, it is hoped that Christians will take steps to abandon fear and their present closure. It is also hoped that, persevering with patience in the communion of sacrifices with their fellow citizens, they will reject the idea of emigrating, thus making the plan fail to empty the country of Christians. They also have the duty to guard their apostolic zeal and make a common front to overcome internal discord and safeguard national unity, rejecting all outside protection. Contributing to reinforce the charitable activities, especially in the health and education sector, so that the Iraqi Christians are witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, peace be to him, in this good and fertile land. It is necessary to activate every form of Muslim-Christian dialogue, to spread the culture of respect for the other to arrive at the necessary unity and address the challenges of globalization.

And, finally, believe me, friends, my people can only breathe their identity with two lungs, Muslim and Christian. An Iraq without Christians is an Iraq without identity and symbols. If the Christians of Iraq stay there, they will be fertile sources for eternity, projects of salvation, flames of ideas, paths for the rebirth and hands that plant the good and spread love creating hope. Thus we will have whole stations in raising hymns full of supplications for Iraq so that this country will again be a great tent that welcomes everyone.

[Translation by ZENIT]