Christians Wish to Stay, Build Future in Iraq

The Christian community in Iraq, whose situation was already precarious under the previous regime despite claims to the contrary, has a firm intention to build their future in Iraq, said the apostolic nuncio in Iraq

“Christians do not want to leave,” Fernando Filoni told Italy-based AsiaNews after Saturday’s attack on five churches. “They are children of this land and want to live peacefully side by side with Muslims.”

Filoni said that following Saturday’s attacks that caused damages to five churches but no injuries, and those of early August that killed at least 11 and injured dozens, the Christian community is shaken.

Under the previous regime, Iraqi Christians still faced difficulties and persecution, Filoni commented. Although Saddam Hussein kept a tight grip on everything and thus guaranteed security, there were still episodes of persecution.

But now, the cleric says, “Not only are threats still being made, but they are turning into concrete deeds. Christians are constantly worried and in danger. Of course, all Iraqis face these difficulties but as a small minority Christians are especially vulnerable.”

Filoni acknowledged that recent attacks have brought concerns and fears to many Christians, but the cleric pointed out it is not the first time that Christians were harshly attacked. “Persecution is not something new; it started last century. During the First World War, hundreds of thousands of Christians were massacred. This continued especially in the north, in Kurdistan. There are also other less visible forms of persecution that have lasted to this day,” Filoni stated.

“Christians have always been victimized but they are also very conscious that they are children of this land,” Filoni added. “They are not outsiders; they are not people who converted as a result of missionary activities . . . They are from this land. They are true citizens and have the right to live here.”

The Iraqi Christian community, concentrated around Baghdad and in the northern cities of Kirkuk, Mosul and Irbil, is one of the oldest in the world, with a history of Christian faith that dates back to the time of the apostles.

“I cannot stress more how much Christians do not want to leave Iraq, how much they want live in this land side by side with others,” Filoni said.

However, Iraq's community of 750,000 Christians has grown increasingly anxious at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the expulsion of Saddam Hussein last year.

According to the secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, more than 100 Christians had been murdered after the U.S.-led war, and about 200 more have died in the general violence that has gripped Iraq.

Meanwhile hundreds of Christians have fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria, waiting for the situation to calm down.