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Chaldean Patriarch: The Future of Iraqi Christians Lies in the Nineveh Plains
By Louis Raphael Sako
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Archbishop Louis Sako is the patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean Church, one of the world's most ancient Christian communities (Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images).
Baghdad -- Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako issued an appeal sent to AsiaNews for wider circulation. In it, he urges "Christians all over the world to pray for Iraq and, especially, for the Nineveh Plains" and "all those who wish to return, to rebuild and live happily and peacefully in the beautiful Nineveh Plains" where their future lies.

In previous statements, the cardinal noted that the Iraqi government and all Iraqis have a humanitarian, moral and national duty to help keep Christians in the Nineveh Plains, as an integral part of the national life. The area region is the "cradle" of Iraqi Christians. The latter have been brutalised by the Islamic State (IS) group and are now threatened by armed Shia militias.

Chaldean primate's message comes at a difficult time for the country. Since October, anti-government protests have multiplied. The authorities are blamed for corruption, misconduct and bad governance, which have increased poverty and unemployment in the population, especially among young people.

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As a result of the protests, which police violently suppressed, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned, but the non-sectarian demonstrators have continued aimed at the fall of those in power. In late November police got tougher following two attacks against the Iranian consulate in Najaf. More than 450 people have died and 20,000 wounded.

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Here is the Chaldean patriarch's appeal for the Nineveh Plains:

On the eve of two important feast days for the Nineveh Plains, Saint Barbara and Saint Behnam, I wish to thank every humanitarian institution and organisation concerned with helping Churches as well as NGOs that have energetically contributed to the return of Christians to the region, which is the historical cradle of Christians.

Whether we come from the mountains of northern Iraq or are residents of Baghdad, or even Basra, each of us, as Iraqi Christians, feel that the Nineveh Plains are part of our being.

It is still painful to remember the exodus caused by the Islamic State group (IS) in 2014, when Christians fled their homes, and after IS's yoke was broken, the discovery of the destructions and the lootings of houses, churches, schools, etc. Each moment of trial saw us count on reliable support from different parts of the world.

Today, two years after liberation, the Nineveh Plains still need help from our brothers and sisters, who can pray and give us a hand. For this reason, today I am addressing this appeal to NGOs, social institutions, Churches, and governments. We need your help so that all the people of the Nineveh Plains can remain in their homes and those who have been displaced can return and live in dignity.

We know that IS's defeat in the region does not mean that we should no longer help its people. On the contrary, there is a crucial need to help youth to secure their future so that they can find a job in their homeland, in their land, the Nineveh Plains.

In order for families to survive and resettle in the area, there is a vital need for a comprehensive health plan with services provided by a network of clinics and hospitals.

I strongly urge all stakeholders to work specifically to restore life in the Nineveh Plains; for instance, by supporting and accompanying those who wish to return, and again, encouraging local farming, trade, animal husbandry, etc.

This can be achieved working with the bishops of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains and their teams. In this regard it is worth remembering that Chaldeans have a new bishop in Mosul and Aqrā, who today lives in the town of Karemlash.

As we prepare in the beginning of Advent, I would like to call upon all the Christians of the world to pray for Iraq; in particular for the people of the Nineveh Plains. O Jesus Christ, grant strength to all those who wish to return, to rebuild and live happily and peacefully in the beautiful Nineveh Plains since the future of Iraqi Christians lies in the Nineveh Plains.

Louis Raphael Sako is the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Iraq.

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