Vatican Secretary of State demands respect for Iraqi Christians’ rights

By Maria Lozano
Briefing to our Donors

CARDINAL PIETRO PAROLIN, the Vatican’s secretary of state, has called on the world community to “facilitate the return and guarantee the protection” of Iraqi Christians seeking to reclaim their homes and properties on the Nineveh Plains. More than 100,000 Christians fled the Nineveh Plains for Kurdistan when ISIS invaded the territory in the summer of 2014.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Cardinal Parolin spoke at a conference for donors and media we organized Sept. 28, 2017 in Rome, devoted to the needs of the Christians of the Nineveh Plains.

Their plight is a major concern for the Holy See which, as Cardinal Parolin emphasized, “has missed no opportunity to speak out on behalf of these Christians, reiterating on numerous occasions the necessity of facilitating their return and ensuring adequate measures of protection and respect for their rights.”

The Secretary of State expressed his gratitude for “the support provided by Aid to the Church in Need in the three years since the ISIS invasion, which has enabled the many uprooted Christian families to endure this situation with dignity and in security.” The families spent the past three years hosted by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil, Kurdistan, where we supported them, along with other Catholic agencies.

Saying that “much has been done, yet much remains to be done,” the cardinal called for support for the Nineveh reconstruction program we support, called “Return to the Roots”. The cardinal referred to “this so-called ‘Marshall Plan’ for the Plains of Nineveh, [as] yet another sign of the concern you have shown, with a sense of urgency and with remarkable efficiency and organization.”

Beyond the urgency of the physical reconstruction of the Nineveh Plains, the the cardinal said, “there is the more important obligation of reconstructing Iraqi society and consolidating a harmonious and peaceful coexistence. Here, Christians have the specific position to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development.”

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, another of the keynote speakers at the conference, denounced the “genocide” of the Christians in Iraq, whose numbers have declined in recent years from 1.5 million people to fewer than 500,000: “The real reason behind this kind of discrimination is the hatred of the radical Muslim persecutors towards the Christians, which has driven them to wipe away our heritage, destroy our homes and even to remove us from the memory of Iraqi history,” the Patriarch said, adding that “This is genocide by all possible means.”

Patriarch Louis Rafael Sako I

Patriarch Sako called on world leaders for help, saying: “We urge those in charge to be seriously open-minded. The United States of America especially bears a moral responsibility to ‘diagnose’ the reality of what is happening in Iraq and the region.”

The Chaldean Patriarch highlighted five areas of concern that demand immediate action: educational support; political support; security and stabilization of the liberated areas; humanitarian assistance; and defeating fundamentalism and terrorism.

The papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, outlined the “complex situation of the region,” noting in particular Kurdistan’s Sept. 25, 2017 referendum on independence from Iraq. The yes vote won overwhelmingly, creating tension in the region which may well impact Christians’ return to the Nineveh Plains, territory that is straddling the border between Iraq proper and Kurdistan.

The archbishop recalled the importance of the Christians in the region and called on all people to “commit themselves for the protection of the religious minorities and at the same terms sponsor aid for development and the promotion of peace.” This would help “get to the root of the situation and help to prevent the crisis of emigration”, he said.

Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martín

The conference was “a call to the international community – politicians, entrepreneurs, ambassadors and other organizations – at a crucial moment in time in order to make possible the return of the Christians to their ancestral homes,” said Philipp Ozores, our organization’s secretary general. “Now is the time to help. We are working with benefactors around the world to support our Iraqi brothers and sisters and keep their hope alive. But action of governments is indispensable in order to bring the reconstruction to a larger scale and guarantee the rights of the Christians. We are conscious that Iraq is still passing through a difficult moment. But we are certain that if we do not help the Christians in Iraq today, there will be no need to even talk of this topic tomorrow.”

Help Christians in the Middle East