Citing turning tide for country's Christians, papal envoy says 'Pope Francis is expected in Iraq'
"If they do return it won't be easy; besides the reconstruction of destroyed houses and infrastructure, such as schools, it will be necessary first and foremost to restore the trust in Muslim neighbors which has also been shattered.Many Christians feel their neighbors betrayed them, because they looted their [abandoned] houses."
Bank)—The Vatican’s top diplomat in Iraq,
Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, is cautiously optimistic that the Christians driven
out of northern Iraq by the Islamic State might be able to return to their
homes sometime this year.
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, however, that the process
will be most challenging—aside from the formidable military effort that will be
required, and which most observers consider to be unlikely to happen anytime
“If they do return it won't be easy," the
nuncio explained; "besides 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 has also been shattered.
Christians feel their neighbors betrayed them, because they looted their [abandoned]
houses. So it will not only be necessary to repair homes, but also
Lingua gave a positive assessment of the work done by the Iraqi central
government: “Something has been put in motion; the new government is working
well. A fundamental factor is the greater involvement of all groups.
country will never be free of of
terrorism as long as some ethnic and religious components are barred from the
governing process. If a group is excluded it must not be assumed that they will
of the Arab Sunni population from the Shiite-dominated central government is
seen as one of the main reasons for the rise of Islamic State.
What is crucial
for the future of Christianity in Iraq, Lingua stressed, is how the crisis in
Mosul and the Nineveh Plain will be handled. That is the territory where the
majority of Christians have lived for many centuries and which is currently
occupied by Islamic State.
"If the government manages to regain control
there and implements a campaign of national reconciliation, then there will be
a place for Christians in Iraq," the archbishop said.
persist, however,” he added, “the weakest will pay the price, and these are
always the minorities. We therefore have to hope that peace will return. This
is where the international community comes in."
Lingua stressed that the basic humanitarian difficulties experienced by the
refugees, such as the inadequate medical care, are currently aggravated further
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 some people to consider emigration while they don't actually
want to leave."
About 7000 Christians have already fled to Jordan, where
many are awaiting to leave for Western countries. The nuncio reported that
about ten percent of the 120,000 Christians who fled their homes in August have
The Nuncio also
stressed that Pope Francis was deeply concerned by Iraq and the situation of
the Christians there. 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."
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 said 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 can't not go to Baghdad, because that's the seat of government.
And you can't not go to Erbil, where the majority of Christian refugees live.”
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, with the risk of missing out on
ACN photo: Archbishop Lingua