Swedish archbishop's call to support Iraqi Christians highlights their plight

(Photo: © Paul Jeffrey / WCC)The WCC general secretary Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Rafael Sako and Iraqi President Fuad Masum meeting in Baghdad in January 2017.

Recent years have not been easy for Iraq's embattled Christians one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world.

So Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén on March 5 called for more international support to be offered to Iraq's Christian population.

The Swedish Lutheran archbishop recently returned from a visit to Iraq with church leaders from the UK, Germany and the United States as well as Syria and Lebanon.

She asserted that the situation faced by internally displaced refugees in the country is extremely difficult and she said many young Christians are giving up and leaving the country altogether.

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In an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Jackelén, the first woman to hold the post of archbishop in Sweden, wrote that she believes a number of measures are need to ensure the continued existence of Iraq's Christian minorities.

"Prejudices between Christians and Muslims [in Iraq] run deep. Marginalization and hostility have existed since long before Da'esh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS]. Sectarianism, especially within Islam, will still be a problem after Da'esh has been defeated," Jackelén wrote.

Both physical security, allowing people to return to their homes, and social and economic security must be improved to enable the minority population to educate itself and prosper, she said.

Jackelén wants church institutions as well as the European Union and the United Nations to engage in offering support and aid to Christians in the country, both economically and through psychological and social help.

She also wants to promote interreligious cooperation to encourage reconciliation, improve social cohesion and create understanding for coexistence.

Most of Iraq's Christians are indigenous Eastern Aramaic-speaking ethnic Assyrians and there is also a small community of Armenians along with populations of Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen Christians.

CHALDEAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

The most widely followed tradition among Iraq's Christians is the Chaldean Catholic Church that is under the Holy See in Rome.

For some Iraq Christians hope has returned, after years of darkness in Telekuf-Tesqopa only 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Mosul, the village is rebuilding after being liberated from the ISIS.

A visible sign of the rebuilding, was a giant cross was erected on a hill, marking the victory of the Christian faith against the darkness of the jihadists, Catholic News Agency reported.

On Feb. 18, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako, visited the village, where he blessed the large cross and took part in the celebration of the first Mass after two and a half years in Saint George Church.      

(Photo: Church of Sweden / Jan Nordén)Bishop Antje Jackelén

The website of the Patriarchate of Babylon reported that authorities and officials of the region were present at the celebration.

In his homily, Patriarch Sako said that this event is "the first spark of light shining in all the cities of the Nineveh Plain since the darkness of ISIS, which lasted almost two and a half years."

"This is our land and this is our home," he told the faithful. He also said that now is the time to regain hope and for the people to return to their towns to begin a new stage of life.

The patriarch said that Christians will thereby demonstrate to the world that the forces of darkness, which inflicted mayhem and ravaged their land, are transient and that the Church of Christ, although it suffers, is built on rock.

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After the Mass was over, those attending went to a hill on the outskirts of the city and Patriarch Sako blessed the huge cross which was raised amid fireworks and cries of "Victory! Victory! Victory! For those who chose the faith and those who return!"

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