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Church Leaders: Christians Can Help Rebuild Iraq

Iraqi Christians should not be encouraged to migrate, but remain in their homeland to help rebuild it, said Iraqi church leaders last week at a meeting in Lebanon.

"The solution to current conditions lies not in emptying Iraq of its human resources," said the participants at a Feb. 10-11 meeting organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Participants acknowledged that Iraqi Christians have been severely persecuted because of their faith, experiencing kidnaps, death threats, and murders. Yet despite the dangers, the some 12 representatives of Iraqi churches called on the country's Christians "to stay in their homeland and participate actively in its rebuilding and development."

Iraqi Christians have a role "in building educational and social institutions that contribute to national reconciliation, peace building and stability," they said.

The Christian population in Iraq is now about half of what it was before the U.S. led conflict in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled to neighboring countries, often living in poverty because of their illegal status which prevents them from obtaining normal jobs and enrolling their children in school.

"Christians have belonged to Iraq since the nation's birth," and are "an essential part of Iraqi society … deeply rooted in its history and civilization," the Iraqi church representative stated. "[They] have the right to live freely" in their country, enjoying "equal rights and responsibilities along with all other citizens."

The gathering was held to address the challenges facing Christians in Iraq today, particularly regarding security and forced migration.

Church leaders from Iraq urge Western churches "not to encourage migration and resettlement programs for refugees outside Iraq." Rather, they should "focus their efforts on bringing back security and stability inside Iraq for all Iraqis" with the goal of helping Iraqis to "work together, healing wounds and building a better future."

Those at the meeting also emphasized the importance of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Iraqi church representatives pledged to establish an "ecumenical forum" to allow "all Iraqi church leaders … to speak with a common voice to religious and political authorities inside and outside Iraq."

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