Iraq Prelate: Let's Talk to Benedict XVI Frankly, Openly

Kirkuk Archbishop Hoping Church Leaders Will Tell Pope in Lebanon of Grave Situation for Christians

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ROME, SEPT. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraq, is hoping Benedict XVI's trip to Lebanon next week will motivate bishops of the Middle East to speak openly with the Pontiff about the danger of Christianity fading away from the region.Archbishop Louis Sako told the charity Aid to the Church in Need Christian leaders should “go beyond the formalities” to spell out their concerns for the survival of the faith when they see the Pope during his Sept. 14-16 trip.

Archbishop Sako underlined the extent of the Christian exodus from the Middle East, saying that it showed no sign of stopping and indeed had spread from Iraq to other countries, notably Syria.He also said that, despite considerable political discussion, extremism and sectarianism are growing and that in response Christians are leaving the region that had been home to their families for thousands of years.

"The rise of political Islam is a matter of worry," the archbishop said. "We Christians are a minority and there is no prospect of us gaining equal citizenship in the concrete reality of day-to-day life and there is no vision of a better future.

"Everyone is speaking of democracy and freedom but the reality on the ground is different."The sectarianism is gaining ground and the majority are not taking care of minority groups. I think there are real fears of more Christians leaving."He described the difficulty of encouraging faithful in his Diocese of Kirkuk to stay, saying many if not most have left."From my diocese there are few families left. I cannot stop them [leaving] and speaking truthfully I have no magic solutions.

"I am doing my best to keep them, defend them and encourage them. That has limited the problem but it is sad to see them leaving for good. As a pastor, I feel bad."Archbishop Sako reiterated that Christians feel like second-class citizens in a state based on Islam. He also acknowledged that some Christians get discouraged by a lack of strong Church leadership.

"Our hierarchy has become tired and it is sad to say we are sometimes divided," he admitted."It is necessary today to develop a Christian Arab theology able to announce the word of God to Arab Christians – and those who are not Christians – and help them to discover God’s love and paternal presence, enhancing dialogue and strengthening co-existence," he reflected. "This theology does not mean isolation from the theology of the Universal Church but rather one which interacts with events and hence assists the Eastern Church with its mission.”