The first new church in Iraq since the 2003 conflict has opened its doors late last week, with the church’s leader calling for interfaith cooperation to ensure peace and stability in their war-wracked country.
Archbishop Louis Sako, speaking during an inauguration ceremony to a gathering of both Christians and Muslims inside Mar Bulos, or Saint Paul's Church, said during Thursday's event, "Isolation is a slow death, so we have hope for a joint life as Christians and Muslims, to have a righteous country, and a city full of security, stability and dignity."
Sako's call for security and stability speaks directly to the sharp rise in the number of Christians who have fled Iraq seeking to escape the threats and attacks of terrorist group Al-Qaida. The number of Christians living in Iraq has shrunk from approximately 1.2 million in 2003 to about 400,000, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Funds supplied by the Iraqi government, together with donations gathered, will also provide for a new complex that is expected to provide 200 homes for those in need.
The chief of Kirkuk's provincial council, Hassan Toran, vowed that the local government will support the Christian community anyway it can. "Today is an example for forgiveness in this city, a message of peace to confirm the coexistence and fraternity of all the sects of Kirkuk." Toran told AFP.
Mar Bulos and the housing complex are located in a neighborhood near Kirkuk, where many of Iraq's Christians live.
Attacks against Christians in Iraq have been a continuous threat since 2003. In October 2010 a group of Al-Qaida terrorists targeted a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad. The attack, seen as the worst of its kind since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, claimed the lives of 52 people.
On the heels of that attack, the president of Christian Solidarity International, Dr. John Eibner penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to intervene and help put an end to attacks against Christians in Iraq.