Iraq will soon be a country without Christians, Patriarch warns

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By Marwan al-Ani

Azzaman, April 28, 2014

The head of the Iraqi church has warned that there might be no Christians left in Iraq in a few years if nothing is done to halt their exodus from the country.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said many of the churches in Baghdad were empty and he had to close some them and merge others due to lack of worshippers.

Sako was elected head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq in January 2013. Chaldean Christians were followers of the ancient Iraqi Church rite, but they converted to Catholicism in the 19th century.

The Chaldean church is the largest church in Iraq and its Patriarch holds the honorary position of the leader of the church in the country with its different and diverse denominations.

Iraqi Christians belong to Easter-rite churches and they used to make about 5 percent of the populations, some 1.5 million.

But their numbers have dwindled, particularly in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, to less than 1 percent of the population, according to some statistics.

“The flight of Christians from the country is worrisome. I have been at the head of the Chaldean church for more than a year and have travelled across the country and I ring the bells of danger,” he said in a statement faxed to the newspaper.

“We are a church in disaster and if conditions continue as they are our numbers will not be more than a few thousand in ten years,” the Patriarch warned.

He said from more than 5000 families who belonged to only one of Baghdad’s over 40 parishes only a few hundred are left.

Some cities with large Christian communities like Hilla in the Province of Babel will soon have not even one single Christian family, he said.

“The reasons are clear. It is the collapse in law and order following the removal of the regime (of President Saddam Hussein) in 2003, the surge in religious militancy and the threats (Christians) get, confiscation of their property and unemployment,” he added.

The Patriarch was critical of ‘certain western countries’ which he said were encouraging Christian to emigrate.

He went on to say that what was happening in Iraq would happen in Syria and will spread to other countries in the Middle East.

“Government authorities (in these countries) bear part of the responsibility for the exodus due to their inability to reinstate security and stability.”

“Christians are the original inhabitants (of Iraq) and they deserve respect, protection and safeguarding of their freedom and dignity,” he said.