Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "If we leave Iraq then we are cut off from our origin and our history" because the "future depends on our commitment and our impact" on this country, said His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq. Indeed, "Our future is here, not in the countries of the Diaspora," he added in a strong, decisive and heartfelt plea made during a meeting with the faithful at St Joseph Parish Church in Baghdad.
Attended by several leaders of the Chaldean Church, the conference was held on 26 February to address the nation's "crisis" and the "challenges" posed by emigration.
The endless exodus of Iraq's Christians, whose population has dropped by half since the US invasion in 2003, is in fact one of the patriarch's key issues, a challenge around which the survival of Christian communities is being played out across the country and around the Middle East.
For His Beatitude, the Christians of the Middle East are different from their Muslim compatriots because they have had to preserve the faith "with great sacrifices".
It is "regrettable" that "Islamic regimes [have] considered them as second class citizens in their homeland," and that the Crusades and colonialism have strengthened their (alleged) "ties with the West," he said.
In addition to security, persecution and violence, Christians now face local mafias and crime groups who encourage their emigration "by offering inducements and facilitate it for a specific agendas and interests".
However, "Leaving the country," His Beatitude explained, "means a break with the history and civilisation of the country - homeland, culture and society - as well as the difficulty of coping with the Western mind-set in terms of language, customs, morals, society, family, culture, and education." In short, "Immigration is eradication from the roots, and a form of death."
"We were born in Iraq," Mar Tues Sako pleaded. "We are here because of a Divine Plan, and we have a call, i.e. a message: The responsibility of carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those we live with. [. . .] If we leave, then who will bear witness for Christ in this country? Our churches will turn into museums and dead stone, that if they are not completely destroyed. [. . .] Isn't immigration a betrayal of the nation and an escape from responsibility?"
Finally, "The alleged happiness in migration is a mirage," Mar Sako noted. "The misery of alienation, the trouble with work, and the risks of being lost might lead to losing everything. Don't think you'll find work, money and prosperity easily," the Chaldean Patriarch warned.
Instead, he suggested some key points to revive the Christian presence in Iraq and the Middle East, namely better education, greater investment and more economic activities, new homes and jobs.
Greater cohesion and unity of purpose among the various political groups are also needed. This could take the form of a League Chaldean to defend the rights of Christians in difficult situations.
The symposium, attended by prelates like the Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad Shlemon Warduni, ended with the Patriarch's invitation to sing the national anthem and a hymn to the Virgin Mary titled 'Under your protection'.