Christmas Message: For the New Phase of Iraq, Let us Move to the Path of Hope Together
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako
On Christmas, the angels sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2/14). This is a title for a real and long-term project, achieved by Jesus Christ and should be accomplished in the heart of every one of us to prevail peace in the world. This heavenly project is the only hope to change our fears and worries resulted from; terrorism and wars; as well as the economic deterioration and the deadly comprehensive arms racing.
1. Hope of Iraqis
After declaring the triumph over ISIS and the termination of terrorist control on Mosul and other Iraqi cities that have been invaded since June 2014, Iraqis hope is to look at this victory as a firm step forward to: attain security and stability; deal with the consequences that affected the general situation; put things at the right track; consolidate the foundations of true citizenship; resolve outstanding matters in a peaceful ways and through dialogue especially the "Kurdistan file"; eliminate corruption; get rid of the widespread religious discrimination; reform the current legal, political, social, educational, and economical matters by changing it radically; and to schedule elections on time.
Accomplishing this hope will create sort of certainty among Iraqis; escalate the credibility of the Iraqi government; and unite Iraqis under one national roof in spite of their different affiliations, as soon as their homes are restored and the liberated towns got reconstructed. This is a “big” challenge that we need to encounter reaching out to this “New Phase” based on fundamental principles.
2. Hope of Christians
As a result of discrimination against Christians, threat, abduction and expulsion from their homes in Nineveh Plain by ISIS, nearly half of their population migrated (over 1.5 million people before 2003). Hence, the liberation of Christian areas oblige the Iraqi Government “as a foster mother for all” to work seriously for; facilitating the return of Christian to their homes and properties; preserving their rights as indigenous citizens; recognizing their culture, civilization and heritage as an essential part of Iraq's history; and preventing demographic changes in their historical geographic areas.
Nevertheless, the time has come for Christians to learn lessons from the past to get rid of their fears, pessimism and personal interests that divided them; clarify their visions, approaches, and unite their stances in order to consolidate their presence and their role in the public affairs and political process in a genuine national partnership away from dependency and custody. This way, Christians will be able to build their homeland, their future, hand in hand with their fellow Muslims, since the future cannot be built without tolerance and coexistence and as long as our strength is in such a mosaic beautiful fabric of Iraq. So, let us move to the path of hope together.
Also, it is time for Christians to communicate with their citizens and with the Church that embraced and supported them during this tragedy by informing the international community about their situation. In addition, the church is encouraging Christians always to hold onto their hope and return to their towns. This is our homeland and we insist to remain here.
3. Role of the Church
The Church in Iraq must read the signs of the times; renew its commitment to the Gospel and to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ; also to be directed by the frequent calls of Pope Francis in deepening the spiritual relationship away from the tendency to power and money; make genuine initiatives towards unity; spread the good news in the society; and reform the religious discourse so that it goes beyond the traditional and formal style to come up as a meaningful and influential speech. Above all, the Chruch should follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ towards the needy, displaced and sick in order to provide them with the possible care. The Church has also to involve the lay people in a wider range of responsibilities through the pastoral councils, the parishes and groups of service. They are all members of the Church since they have been baptized "given a royal priesthood" that makes them partners.
In regards to Muslims, an honest dialogue is a MUST, to understand the truth of each side and accept it, especially that the Vatican Council II, in 1965, paved the way for this kind of dialogue by stating: "The Church looks with respect to the Muslims who worship the one God, the living, the mighty, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth…" (statement on the relationship of the Church with the Islamic religion … article 3). This kind of dialogue must go beyond the formalities and put more effort on those with good will in order to establish peace and security as well as promoting the values of tolerance, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
In conclusion, I urge the Christians to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have been suffering from injustice and displacement for 70 years. I also call on them today to pray for Jerusalem to remain a holy city for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year
Baghdad 19 December 2017