Christian Exodus from Iraq Accelerates

Praying rosary in IraqThe migration of Christians out of Iraq will accelerate. This was the view held by the head of the Chaldean-Catholic Church, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako.

In an interview with the international Catholic pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need given on Saturday, June 28th in Ankawa, near Erbil, he said, “When I was in Turkey recently ten Christian families from Mosul arrived. And in the space of only one week twenty families left Alqosh, a completely Christian town not far from Mosul. This is very serious. We are losing our community. If Christian life in Iraq comes to an end, this will be a hiatus in our history.”

The head of the Chaldean-Catholic Church, which is in full communion with Rome, sees the future of Christians in Iraq as being under threat: “In ten years there will perhaps be 50,000 Christians left. Prior to 2003, this figure was about 1.2 million. Within ten years we have shrunk to a community of perhaps four to five hundred thousand faithful.”

The Patriarch, who resides in Baghdad, also regards the disintegration of Iraq as inevitable: “Perhaps there will be a symbolic unit and the name Iraq may continue to exist. But de facto there will be three independent zones with their own budgets and armies.” He shared with other bishops the view that the situation would continue to deteriorate, Sako said. “At present there are three fragments of Iraq, a Sunni one, a Kurdish one and a Shiite one. The Kurds already enjoy autonomy anyway. The Shiites do as well in a sense. Now the Sunnis are following suit. Iraq will therefore be divided up.”

The effects of the disintegration of the state on the country’s Christian community are not yet definitively foreseeable in the view of Louis Raphael I. “To be honest we Bishops are somewhat at a loss at the present time. The future may lie in Kurdistan. Many Christians are already living there after all. But there are also many who live in Baghdad, and there are also some in Basra in the Shiite south. We must wait and see how things develop.”

Sako sharply criticized the behavior of the western states: “They find football more interesting than the situation here or in Syria. Western policy only pursues economic interests. The international community should put pressure on Iraqi politicians to make them find a political solution and form a government of national unity.”

Sako regards the Sunni terrorist organization ISIS as a danger extending beyond Iraq. “ISIS intends to found an Islamic state with oil wells in order to Islamize the world. I think this is a danger for all.” The Patriarch does not discount the possibility of finding a political way out of the present crisis: “Such a possibility will still exist if the west and our neighbors such as Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia want it to.”

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org