Refugee Resettlement Watch

Iraqi archbishop wants Christians to return. But is it safe?

Posted by Judy K. Warner on December 4, 2008

The Archbishop of Kirkuk is calling on Iraqi Christians to return home. The Catholic News Agency reports:

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said in an interview with the L’Osservatore Romano this week that the situation in Iraq “is quite good and this means refugees could return to their homes. There are hundreds of empty and abandoned rooms and tents that await the return of Christians.”

“Christians draws near,” the archbishop said, “and what better time to come together and await the birth of our Lord Jesus?” he asked.

“Our Muslim brethren also await the return of the Christian community. When Muslims are in need and ask us for help, we do not hesitate. I assure you that in Iraq there has always been a great spirit of coexistence and reciprocal respect,” he added.

Archbishop Sako also noted that “towards the middle of December at the offices of the Archdiocese of Kirkuk, a day of prayer and reflection will be held, which will be attended not only by Christians but by leaders of other faiths as well.  It will be day of prayer during which hymns and psalms will be read and we will ask Jesus to help us live together, to dialogue and to keep Kirkuk and Iraq free of violence. This will once again show the spirit of coexistence and peace that is found in Iraq.”

“Of course,” he warned, “we cannot underestimate the terrorist groups, whose objective is to spread fear among Christians and break the good relations that unite the country. But with common prayer we can lessen the danger.”

That last paragraph makes it sound not quite so safe as all that. And indeed, the Asia News reports on another statement by the Archbishop that is not so optimistic. This one is a reaction to the news that the European Union has announced a plan to take in 10,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom would be Christian.

While it is our duty to welcome refugees it is far more important to “eliminate the root cause of their forced exile” and to make it possible for them to “live in peace and harmony in the land of their birth…. Passing an indemnity of this nature is like telling Christians to flee, to leave Iraq.  Today 10 thousand, tomorrow another 10 thousand until the day arrives when the nation will be emptied of its Christian presence”.   

He says it’s all right for European countries to take the most difficult cases, “but it is necessary to deal with specific cases and above all to work to rebuild civil coexistence in the country.”

Msgr. Sako denounces the lack of a common vision within the Christian community and the absence of a strong political leadership: “Christians are divided among themselves – he comments – some want to stay, others prefer to leave.  The desire to flee is spurred on by the lack of a political leader capable of guiding people towards a concrete project that would convince them to stay, even in the midst of suffering and difficulties”.  A large part of the Muslim community is also against the exodus, who seek “faithfulness, openness and morality” from their Christian brothers and sisters, but also cooperation in “rebuilding the future together” because they consider Christians “an integral part of our nation”.

Can it be true that many Muslims want the Christians to stay? I have read that in other places. Despite media reports that dwell on differences within Iraq, the place has been a nation for a long time in which different groups lived together. On the one hand, the current constitution is Islamic. On the other hand, Iraqis have been traumatized by the violence stirred up between groups, and have some motivation to stop emphasizing religious differences and build a civil society.  The Archbishop expresses both sides. First he invokes the Muslims who consider Christians “an integral part of our nation.” Then, 

The Archbishop of Kirkuk concludes with an appeal for the Christian community: “To flee before difficulties – he says – means loosing the true meaning of the Christian message which invites us to mission, not to retreat.  Even in the face of persecution, we must be an example of the deepest sense of the Gospel, which asks us to be witnesses to Christ’s sacrifice. Leaving means betraying our duty to announce Christ, as many Muslims hope and expect us to do.  All of this is held within the meaning of one expression, which according to tradition Peter asked of Christ; ‘Quo vadis?’. In his answer he invited Peter to return to Rome to face martyrdom”. 

The situation is probably as mixed as the Archbishop’s message.

Addendum:

I don’t have time to give you excerpts or comment on this, but World Magazine presents a dire picture of the situation for Iraqi Christians, here.

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