People in the West care more about football than Iraq and Syria, Patriarch Louis Rafael I Sako says.
In the midst of its current strife, do you have any hope that Iraq can remain a single state?
No. Perhaps a symbolic unit and the name of Iraq will continue to exist. But de facto there will be three independent zones with their own budgets and armies.
What are the consequences of the disintegration of the state for Christians in Iraq?
That is the question. 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.
On Friday the synod of the Chaldean Church in Erbil came to an end. Did you decide on any measures in view of the crisis of Christian refugees from areas occupied by ISIS or otherwise under threat from them?
We have been closely concerned with this. We also assigned a commission of five bishops from the areas affected whose task is to ensure initial aid for the refugees. The American and French consuls were here to help us and to develop a vision. But everything is still in a state of flux. I and other bishops are of the opinion that the situation will deteriorate. 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. If this is the case it will be better to sit down together and find a consensus in order to prevent further fighting and loss of human life.
Is this the darkest hour for Iraqi Christianity?
It is the darkest for everybody. There is no persecution of the Christians. Many more Muslims have fled from Mosul and the surrounding area. But what worries us greatly is the fact that the exodus of Christians from Iraq will increase. When I was in Turkey recently ten Christian families from Mosul arrived. And in the space of only one week 20 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. Our identity is threatened.
Should western countries give Iraqi Christians a visa or not?
The tragedy is that the families are split up. Many are already in the west. The children are constantly asking their parents why they are still there and not following them. You can’t stop this trend. It’s impossible.
So there’s no hope?
Perhaps the older ones will return when the situation has stabilized. But the young ones will stay outside the country. 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 400,000 to 500,000 faithful. We don’t have exact figures.
What can we Christians in the west do?
The Christians in the West are very weak. There are good Christians there who support us with their prayers and in material terms. But their influence is slight. On the whole the West is doing nothing at all. We are very disappointed. They are just uninvolved observers. 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.
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