The Papal Ambassador in Iraq hopes that the situation of the Christians in the country will improve in 2015
By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
The Apostolic Nuncio for Iraq, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, expressed the hope that the Christians driven out of northern Iraq by the terrorist militia “Islamic State”(IS) would be able to return to their homes this year. The Nuncio said this to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Tuesday in Bethlehem (Palestine), where he was attending a conference.
“But if they do return it won’t be easy,” the Nuncio explained. “Alongside the reconstruction of destroyed houses and infrastructure such as schools, it will be necessary first and foremost to restore the trust in Muslim neighbours which had also been shattered. Many Christians feel their neighbours betrayed them because they looted their houses. So it will not only be necessary to repair houses, but also relationships.”
A campaign of national reconciliation
Archbishop Lingua gave a positive assessment of the work done by the Iraqi central government. “My impression is that something has got moving and that the new government is working well. A fundamental factor is the greater involvement of all groups. It will never be possible to speak of an Iraq free of terrorism as long as not all ethnic and religious components are involved. If one group is excluded it must not be assumed that they will not rebel,” the Nuncio continued. The alienation of the Arab Sunni population from the Shiite-dominated central government is seen as one of the main reasons for the rise of the “Islamic State.”
What is crucial for the future of Christianity in Iraq, Lingua stressed, is how the crisis in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain would be handled, where the majority of Christian refugees lived and which is currently occupied by the IS. “If the government manages to regain control and implements a campaign of national reconciliation, then there will be a place for Christians in Iraq. If the clashes persist, however, the weakest will pay the price, and these are always the minorities. We therefore have to hope that peace will return. And this is where the international community comes in.”
Archbishop Lingua stressed the problem of basic humanitarian difficulties experienced by the refugees, such as inadequate medical care, are further aggravated by the cold winter. “At the present time the people mainly need heaters. There are reports that some of the children have perished in the cold.” On top of this there are growing psychological strains. “The people don’t know how long they still have to hold out as refugees,” Lingua said. “This hopeless situation is causing those people to consider emigration who don’t actually want to leave.”
About 7,000 Christians had already fled to Jordan, where many were awaiting to leave for western countries. Overall the Nuncio assumes that about ten per cent of the 120,000 Christians who fled in August have left Iraq.
A visit from Pope Francis?
The Nuncio also stressed that Pope Francis was deeply concerned by Iraq and the situation of the Christians there. The Holy Father demonstrated his concern on various occasions, according to Lingua. When asked about the possibility of a Papal visit to Iraq he said: “The Holy Father is expected in Iraq both by the Church and the political powers, and even by non-Christians such as the Shiite leadership. I am impressed how great the consensus is concerning the figure of the Pope.”
With a view to security concerns surrounding a visit by the Pope to Iraq, Lingua said: “I’m no expert in such matters. But everybody says that they would do everything to make the visit a success.” Archbishop Lingua continued that a possible visit would have to last longer than one day. “You can’t come to Iraq and not go to Ur, which Sunnis, Shiites and Christians all revere as the birthplace of Abraham. You cannot not go to Baghdad because it is the seat of government – and you cannot not go to Erbil, where the majority of Christian refugees live. I would therefore prefer a visit to be fixed for a later date and for it to be more extensive, rather than for it to be organized quickly, missing out on some opportunities.”