Monday, June 02, 2008

The Suffering Continues

Accepting an award in Milan over the weekend, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk pleaded for continued concern for Iraq's scattered Christian community, which he said was still undergoing a "terminal exodus":
"Do not leave us alone. Do not leave us isolated and abandoned": this is the appeal to all Christians of the world issued by Louis Sako, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, who this morning received the prize "Defensor Fidei" from the foundation "Fides et Ratio" and from the magazine "Il Timone". The prize is accompanied by an award of 10,000 euros.

In his impassioned speech, the archbishop recalled "the terminal exodus" of the Iraqi Christians, who are fleeing the country under the pressure of lack of security, misery, and "ethnic-religious cleansing" carried out by fundamentalist groups.

"There are 100,000 refugees in Syria", the archbishop said, "30,000 in Jordan, many thousands in Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. They know that their situation is temporary, and the prospect of returning home seems like a dream. They are desperate. Many others, especially the poorest, have taken refuge in the Kurdish region in the north, which they had been forced to leave by Saddam's regime. The Kurdish government, thanks to the concern of the finance minister, who is a Christian, has rebuilt their homes in their villages, but they lack sanitary structures, schools, and work. In the villages of the plain of Nineveh, 7,000 families live who have emigrated from Mosul, Baghdad, Basra. Rent prices are high, and many young people are unable to attend school or university".

Recalling the sacrifice of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who died after being kidnapped last February, and of many Iraqi priests and faithful, Archbishop Sako asked western Christians to "take stock of the seriousness of this . . . tragedy, and apply diplomatic and political pressure to the United States, the Iraqi government, and also to the countries that support the Islamisation of Iraq, in order to guarantee the respect of personal dignity and fundamental freedoms, and to stop the persecution and ethnic cleansing".

The archbishop stressed that Iraqi Christians "are one of the most ancient components of the Iraqi population. Since the beginning, they have blended with other groups, like the Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Yazidi; they were the pioneers of Iraqi civilisation. Moreover, they have always defended the unity of the country in a courageous way, together with their Muslim brothers".

"Unfortunately", he continued," recently the Christians have been singled out as scapegoats, to be exploited or eliminated. In some areas of Iraq, Christians suffer through emigration, rape, kidnapping, extortion, threats and killings carried out with religious motivations. This aberrant behaviour contradicts the humanitarian values of the Iraqi people, and the moral values of the Islamic religion. It must be understood that an Iraq without Christians would be disastrous for all Iraqis! . . . Forcing Christians to flee leads to the deterioration of the concept of coexistence, and to cultural destruction".
Meanwhile, last week the Pope received the bishops of Myanmar on their long-scheduled ad limina visit, during which he addressed the fallout of the recent Cyclone Nargis.

In his address to the prelates, B16 said that "during these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the church’s efforts to provide shelter, food, water, and medicine to those still in distress," adding his hope "that, following the agreement recently reached on the provision of aid by the international community, all who are ready to help will be able to furnish the type of assistance required and enjoy effective access to the places where it is needed most."

Making a visit to the Rome headquarters of Caritas Internationalis -- the global umbrella group of Catholic relief agencies -- Archbishop Paul Zingtung Grawng of Mandalay told its leaders that, thanks to the aid coming in, "the people of Myanmar for one of the first times feel a sense of being connected to the outside world and that we are not alone. For all the help, we’re grateful.

Citing the continued needs of the over 60,000 Nargis survivors being aided by Caritas, Grawng -- head of the nation's bishops conference -- said that "many of these people would now be dead if it had not been for the work of the Church and the solidarity of Caritas and its supporters who have given so generously." Almost immediately, the archbishop noted that "church workers went immediately into the worst hit villages to rescue people and bring them to safety. We are able to provide food, shelter and medicine to people in camps in churches. We are also able to deliver supplies to people who have remained in their villages."

The coordinator for the work of Catholic relief agencies in 162 countries, Caritas has appealed for $8.2 million to aid the ongoing efforts in Myanmar.