In a recent interview, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako describes the deteriorating situation in Iraq, with growing Islamic fundamentalism leading to increasing tension and lack of security.
Patriarch Sako was born in Northern Iraq in 1948. At the end of January 2013, the former Archbishop of Kirkuk was appointed Patriarch of Babylon. The new Patriarch chose the name Louis Raphaël I.
Eminence, for months we have been hearing disturbing reports of violence and terror, from Iraq and from the whole of the Middle East. How do you yourself judge the situation?
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: "In Iraq, in Syria, and even in Lebanon and in Jordan there is a feeling of tension and insecurity. The growing fundamentalism is a challenge. Many are waiting and fearing. In Iraq the situation has deteriorated; there is a lack of security. People die in explosions, and houses are destroyed. Even though it is a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, the Christians must fear attack. Some have left the country; others stay and are waiting."
What does this development mean for the whole region?
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: "Insecurity, a lack of perspectives. A month ago we visited refugees in Turkey. And now I have been on a pastoral visit to Lebanon, where there are very many Christian refugees who have no hope, who do not know where they should go. We try to strengthen them, to restore their hope."
What does this mean concretely?
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: "Many families are suffering hardship. In Baghdad, for example, we have divided the main seminary into apartments and made them available to needy families or to young couples who wish to marry, so that they can stay."
How could the situation in Middle East be fundamentally changed?
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: "A solution is possible if we can come together in dialogue and try to achieve reforms in an atmosphere of trust and not with military violence; if we in the Middle East can guarantee human rights such as is the case in the Western countries. Our governments have also committed themselves to this, but they do little to achieve it."
What could the West do? Some states, for example, have declared their willingness to accept refugees...
Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako: "The Western states should not encourage the Christians to leave the region. Instead they could help with projects so that the people can stay, not least in the countryside. I have visited 40 villages in Northern Iraq. The people do not have very great needs; medicine, kindergartens, seeds, means of transport, jobs."