ASIA/IRAQ - Building a more mature nation, where Christians are acknowledged and respected -

Mosul (Agenzia Fides) - “The situation is difficult. But Iraqi Christians do not lose hope and are helping to build the new Iraq. The country and Iraqi society at large are more mature than in the election four years ago. What is needed is a joint effort of political leaders and religious Christian leaders,” Fides was told in an interview with Iraqi priest Fr. Bashar Warda, Redemptorist, Rector of St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Ainkawa, near Erbil, northern Iraq. Fr. Warda has just returned from Mosul, where he accompanied the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel Delly III on his private visit to the Church and local authorities. Fides asked him a few questions on upcoming elections. What do you see Christians expecting from the March 7th elections? We note that the democratic process is more mature than 4 years ago. Iraq is emerging from a very difficult situation, in the aftermath of a regime. There are international forces in the country to ensure this transition, and there are negative elements as violence, kidnapping, and terrorism. But there is also greater awareness, more openness in civil society. The country is learning step by step, and is on the path of democracy. Christians, who are an integral part of the nation, are trying to be present and active in this process of growth and build a civil and democratic future. How will Christians participate in the vote and in building the new Iraq? They are very hopeful for the direct participation in the vote. Only in the area of Mosul is there a real emergency, as a result of the violence in recent days. More than 870 families have fled to other villages. Where will they vote? They are trying to prepare a security plan and ensure the right to vote to all these internal refugees. Our contribution to the construction of Iraq is through political representation (we have 5 reserved seats in parliament), through heightening awareness and increasing social works, with the proclamation of human rights and freedoms for all. There are some Christian candidates also presenting themselves on the secular lists, which is a good sign and means that we want to be “leaven in the dough.” How do you explain the recent anti-Christian violence? What are the hidden motives? The violence is clearly linked to the elections and is meant to intimidate Christians. However, one must also consider the imbalance and conflict between local and central power. The attacks on Christians creates tension throughout the country and generates great attention from the international community. Christians, therefore, could become the victims of political conflicts between warring factions. The country is also marked by conflicts between Arabs and Kurds, and between Shiite and Sunnis Muslims. The Christian community in Iraq has always acted as a bridge to link the various components and work for reconciliation, enjoying the respect of all. We must not be dragged into sectarian violence, but remain calm in this difficult situation. What do you think of the plan to bring together Iraqi Christians in the Nineveh Plain? Of course the idea of a “ghetto” is unacceptable and Christians want to be and should be scattered throughout the territory of Iraq to accomplish their mission. I believe that politicians, both Christians and non, do not want this as it would imply surrendering to fanaticism and separatism. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding on the proposal. According to some, in accordance with the Constitution in force, a special legal status could be given to the Christian community in Nineveh, where the faithful are better represented. This should not exclude the possibility of Christian communities living in greater tranquility and legitimacy in the rest of Iraq. The proposal to establish a “Nineveh Plain Administrative Unit” for Christians has been on the table since 2003. I think it is necessary that Christian politicians and religious leaders meet to discuss and clarify, consider proposals and solutions. How can the fundamental rights of Christians in the country be better safeguarded? To achieve this fundamental objective, the Church leaders in Iraq should maintain close contact and make a concerted effort with Christian leaders. Working for the rights of minorities is a political task, so Christians directly involved in politics must assume this responsibility. Bishops and leaders of Churches can and should help those representatives with their vision, bringing values. What is vital now is a mature dialogue between these two components, for the good of the whole community. The Church, which has no political agenda, works to form the consciences of citizens and politicians, enlightening them with the light of the Gospel. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 3/3/2010)

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