Several key leaders of the Christian churches in Iraq met with international church leaders, including members of the World Council of Churches Central Committee, in Geneva this week, concerning the ongoing situation in Iraq.
The Iraqi group, which included a patriarch and four archbishops, spoke not just about recent violence against Christians, such as the October 2010 shootings and suicide bombings at the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Nejat) in Baghdad, but the continuing violence against all people in Iraq.
They also addressed the increasing absence of security within the country and immigration, which is causing a refugee problem.
In a public hearing held during the Central Committee meetings, the Iraqi leaders emphasised the importance of “creating an atmosphere of security for all citizens” in Iraq.
By coming to the World Council of Churches (WCC) the group hoped to share their story and encourage the churches around the world to engage in advocating with their governments to “work to empower the role of the state to secure rights for all no matter their religious and ethnic background and according to the constitution.”
The visit, which put the Iraqi church leaders in direct contact with representatives from more than 150 churches, came as one of the follow-up steps to a visit of WCC staff to Iraq in December 2010.
It also offered the opportunity for the WCC Central Committee members to express their concern and support for all Iraqis as they work toward the alleviation of the difficulties people face there.
“Christians in Iraq represent one of the most ancient and durable communities in the world,” WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said. “Along with all Iraqis they are being severely stressed and threatened in present circumstances, so we are anxious to express our ecumenical solidarity with the women and men there and to work with churches and others to address their plight.”
“The only hope is to bring back hope,” said Archbishop Mar Georgis Sliwa, Metropolitan of the Iraq Diocese of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. “Despite the difficulties we are still hopeful because we are Christians and we love our country.”
Sliwa longs for people who have left to return in time, yet he recognized that “the urgency now is for those who still live in Iraq.”
The most urgent needs, he said, were for security, the need for “investigating the real reasons” behind the violence that is being perpetrated against all Iraqis, and the need to “work to empower the role of the state” to secure rights and the security of the people, no matter their religion and ethnicity.
“Once back to normal life,” he said, “they will be able to implement development projects and provide investment.”
The churches in Iraq remain active although under stress, the leaders said. “We have parishes that have completely gone, and all churches have experienced decline in the number of worshippers,” said Archbishop Dr Avak Asadourian, the Primate of the Diocese of Iraq of the Armenian Orthodox Church and General Secretary of the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq. “If this continues for some time I am afraid our churches will be in peril.”
The Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq was formed in early 2009 as a way to bring the churches of Iraq together for support, advocating for security and development of the ecumenical life in Iraq.
Asadourian also talked about how the church community remains fully active in the diaconal work of the church, providing food and lodging for people suffering from economic hardship.
Women’s groups from within the church “are very active and members of advocacy groups,” he said, describing how the women “visit different homes to see how families are living and what their needs are.”
Still, he said, “the need is very sharp and whatever we give them is not enough sometimes,” he said.
The Iraq delegation included Patriarch Mar Addai II, Catholicos of the Ancient Church of the East (Baghdad); Archbishop Avak Asadourian, Primate of the Iraq Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church and General Secretary of the Council of Christian Church Leaders in Iraq; and Archbishop Mar Georgis Sliwa, Metropolitan of the Iraq Diocese of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East; Archbishop Mar Severius Hawa, Metropolitan of the Baghdad Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church; the Rev Fr Nadheer Dako of the Chaldean Church; and the Rev Elder Yousif Jamil Al-Saka, of the Presbyterian Church of Baghdad.