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Silence of international community over displaced in Iraq rebuked by patriarch

BERUIT (CNS): “Our main demand is that they return to their homes and lands in dignity,” said Bechara Cardinal Rai of the Maronite Catholic patriarch during a visit with displaced Christians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq on June 19.

“We have trusted the international coalition in that. But, unfortunately, the terrorist groups are still growing and advancing,” he said.

The patriarch and Pope Francis’ representative, Angelo Cardinal Scola from Milan, travelled to Irbil to meet with some of the more than 100,000 Christians who fled from the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who occupied Mosul and sections of Nineveh province in the summer of 2014. 

They were met by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako from Baghdad; Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda from Irbil; Kurdistan’s regional interior minister, Karim Sinjari along with other political and religious officials.

Surrounded by crowds and eager children, the two walked between the rows of tents and prefabricated containers that serve as living areas for the displaced, visited families in makeshift dwellings and toured a portable medical clinic. 

They also met with displaced religious sisters, priests and seminarians living among and serving the uprooted Christians.

“Here we should ask: Where are they receiving this strength from? Why is ISIS being treated as a state and not a terrorist group? We don’t speak the language of killing, but that of rights,” said Cardinal Rai who has called for an end to the supply of weapons and financing of the ISIS.

He said, “The international community should not remain silent toward the violation of the rights of a whole people.” 

Cardinal Scola, who is president of Oasis, an international foundation that acts as a forum for dialogue and a bridge of support for Catholics in the Middle East, stressed the importance of conveying “the truth about the current situation with transparency, accuracy and objectivity.”

“Christians should remain in Iraq because their history is rooted in Iraq, where they have lived alongside Muslims and built common civilizations,” Cardinal Rai said. “Their future is here, too, and they cannot let go of this land.”

Sinjari remarked that Christians are “an essential part” of the civilisation and culture of the Iraqi people and urged the Church “to encourage them to stay in Iraq.”

He said, “Their emigration is a great loss for our country.” 

This was Cardinal Rai’s second visit to Irbil. In August he travelled to the Kurdish capital with a delegation of Catholic patriarchs to show support and solidarity with those displaced by the ISIS.

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