Friday, 25 July 2003

Rome (Fides Service) - “I am confident about the future of the Church in Iraq” says Chaldean Archbishop Ishaq Jacques, emeritus of Arbil of the Chaldeans, presently rector of Babel Pontifical University in Baghdad. The Babel College for Philosophy and Theology has 280 students and it is an ecumenical institute open to future priests of the various Christian confessions present in Iraq.
Fides asked Archbishop Jacques about the situation in the country.

Tell us about interreligious relations in Iraq? Is there a danger of a religious war?
Many are worried about interreligious relations in Iraq but they do not take into account that our country has a long tradition of peaceful co-existence among its people of different faiths, under all many different regimes, monarchy, republic, the Baath Party. Therefore there is no situation of religious war although there are isolated cases of intolerance towards followers of a different religion. Those who shout the loudest, invoking extremist positions, do not always represent the majority of Muslims. There are many signs of hope for interreligious dialogue. For example in the Institute of which I am the rector, the Babel College for Philosophy and Theology there are 6 Muslim teachers, most of whom are Shiites. They are happy to contribute to the formation of future Christian priests and they are proud to teach in our college.

How has the Catholic community faced the emergency of the war and now the process of rebuilding the country?
Everyone in Iraq, Christians and Muslims alike, has suffered because of the war. But war did not find us unprepared. The local Church had made preparations a long time before: every parish had supplies of food and water to distribute to the people, Christians and Muslims. We offered help to all who knocked on our door, regardless their religion. During the war the parish priests and the bishops remained at their posts with the people. As did Archbishop Fernando Filoni the Apostolic Nuncio. Masses were said frequently and never stopped even when bombs and missiles hit out cities. Now we are concentrating on how to help build a new Iraq. As representatives of Christians in Iraq we have met with most of the Iraqi political parties. They all assure us that they consider the Christian presence in Iraq fundamental in order to preserve social and religious balance in the country.

What challenges face the local Church? What do Christians ask of the future Iraqi government?
The challenges we face are the same faced every day by all Iraqis. These are problems caused by lack of government and essential services like electricity, water, an efficient police force able to guarantee security. To solve at least in part the many difficulties facing the people, in several cities in Iraq, city districts have appointed their own self-management committees. The local parish priest is always asked to join the committee, along with Muslim leaders.
We call on the institutions of the new Iraq to allow us to profess our faith freely, to hold our services, to carry out our ministry and we also ask for the return of church schools nationalised in the past. LM (Fides Service 25/7/2003 EM lines 48 Words: 529)