Cardinal Philippe Barbarin">
The well-documented questions of Laurence Desjoyaux are divided into several sections: the interview discusses the ordeal of the Islamic state, the two thousand year history of Christianity in Iraq, the life of the patriarch from childhood to his present ministry, the dialogue with Islam and the possible future of Christians in Iraq.
The first part is full of emotional material, touching on a question that is always present between the lines: why is there so much hatred against Christians? What is it about the Chaldean Christian community that is so unbearable for the men of the Islamic State? Among the many passages of the text in which the patriarch addresses the reasons for the present-day tragedy, one stands out in particular and serves as a fundamental challenge for Christians throughout the world: ‘The members of the organization ‘Islamic State’ believe that Christians, with their freedoms and their customs get in the way. Look at the young Christian girls dressed in jeans and without a veil! According to them, a young Muslim girl cannot dress like that. Therefore the presence of Christians is an obstacle to the creation of a true Islamic state [...]. In this so-called ‘caliphate’, a free Christian woman, dressed differently, forces other young women to question themselves. Christians, with their differences, sow doubt’.
In this word ‘difference’ lies two millennia of Christian presence in these lands, something to which the head of the Chaldean Church refers several times: a long history that has repeatedly seen Christians pay the ultimate price because of their faith. Yesterday and still today: the bishop of Mosul, Msgr. Raho abducted and killed in 2008, the high number of priests and ordinary believers who chose to die or leave everything, home, work, city, country, rather than convert to Islam, is evidence of just how real, alive and acknowledged the Risen Jesus is amongst them and by them.
The cross in the Chaldean churches, says the patriarch, is without the body of the crucified. It is a glorious cross: it indicates – by its absence – that the Crucified, who took upon himself all the evil of all time, died, but rose again, and is no longer on that wooden cross. The Easter light pierces the whole testimony of Msgr. Sako and becomes the criterion by which he interprets the present and envisages the future that can be expected by the Iraqi Christians.
With much realism, the Patriarch understands that in order not to die at the violent hands of terrorists or from hardship, many are forced to leave their homeland. The bleeding seems unstoppable: from a million and a half Christians before the 2003 war, today, according to unofficial estimates, the number stands at about 300,000 to 400,000. But we must not give up, says the patriarch, we must combat the problem and attempt to reverse the current trend. It’s not just a ‘Christian’ matter, Iraq would eventually close in on itself, emptied of a vital presence and the guarantee of plurality.
In no uncertain terms Msgr. Sako calls into question the Western forces that contributed to creating the chaos in Iraq in 2003: “The Americans that invaded Iraq, that changed the regime and that said that they would protect human rights and bring democracy and freedom, where are they? Where is the freedom? Where is the democracy? We must now achieve this great project and allow all citizens of this country to live with dignity”. Westerners, he adds, need to understand that the fanaticism of the Islamic State is a serious danger for them. And to the ultimate question of whether it is possible for Christians to have a future in Iraq, the Patriarch replied yes, there is a future, but it must be created together.
Iraq is moving towards a split, in fact it is already divided into three main areas, geographically and also psychologically: Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish areas. Although it now appears to be an impossible prospect, Mgr. Sako hopes that in the long term Iraq can become a federation of states, something which could safeguard the unity of the country, guarantee the autonomy of individual parts and create new economic development. Christians could live where they are and be adequately represented in the governing bodies. The solution, the patriarch believes, is not to flee, but to resist and participate, eager to be recognized as citizens equal to Muslims and with the same rights. The problem is that time is running out, it is now time to return to live life fully: “I am full of hope, concluded Msgr. Sako, that in the end, the resurrection will come. We are in a tunnel [...] but at the end there is light, there is the day [...]. Evil has no future. [...] While good is slow, laborious, but tenacious. It is stable. It is victorious”.
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