08 December 2023, The Tablet

Christians ‘essential’ to Iraq, say Church leaders

“Their roots are deep in Iraq before and after Christianity.  Their presence has not ceased.”

Christians ‘essential’ to Iraq, say Church leaders

Iraqi Christians at the installation of Archbishop Nizar Semaan as coadjutor Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan at the Church of the Immaculate in Qaraqosh in 2019.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales / Mazur

The heads of Churches in Iraq urged Christians to “adhere to their identity and perform their national role” in an appeal for official protection of their rights.

Following a meeting convened on 28 November by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, at a monastery in Ankawa, a largely Christian district of Erbil, the group issued a statement asserting Christians’ place in Iraq.

“Their roots are deep in Iraq before and after Christianity.  Their presence has not ceased,” they said. 

“Christians, before and after the advent of Islam, had a role rooted in the history of Iraq, Mesopotamia, the land of ‘beginnings’ and first civilisations.  They constitute an essential part of its cultural, social and national heritage.”

The Church leaders, representing most of the country’s 14 denominations and communities, complained of attacks on Christians and “attempts to seize their homes and property”, which were driving emigration.  Iraq’s Christian population stood around 1.5 million at the end of the twentieth century, but has fallen to an estimated 250,000 today.

“All we fear now is that the state will continue not to take serious action to preserve the rights of Christians, provide them with justice, and return their property,” the statement continued, encouraging Christians to engage with “the political process and state institutions with all professionalism and sincerity”.

Iraqi Christians were key to “building a state of citizenship, a prosperous state, a state that promotes the concept of one family, Christian, Muslims and others”, the leaders said, calling on the government “to fight corruption, end sectarian quotas, restrict weapons to the legitimate constitutional forces…preserve the rights of citizens, and ensure their lives in freedom, prosperity and dignity”.

The statement addressed many of the causes raised by Cardinal Sako in his recent disputes with the Iraqi government, including opposition to the withdrawal of formal decrees granted to heads of Churches “because they recognise…his guardianship over [church] endowments”.

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