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Iraqi Christians Want Peace and Jobs

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., left, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, right, pose for a photo with Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad at a church in the Iraqi capital in early October. The American prelates’ v isit came at the invitation of Iraqi bishops and was meant to be sign of solidarity with the country’s Christian community. (photo: CNS/courtesy of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas) 

14 Oct 2011 – by Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Iraqis want a return to peace, security and stability and the chance to secure meaningful employment, said two U.S. bishops who traveled to Baghdad in a demonstration of the American Catholic Church’s solidarity with the country’s violence-weary Christians.

Visiting Oct. 2-5 at the invitation of the bishops of Iraq, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, found Iraqi Christians confronting immense daily challenges while facing the threat of violence because of their faith.

Iraqis, the bishops said, repeatedly stressed the need for security and urged the prelates to share their story with the American church and government officials.

“People were grateful that two bishops from the U.S. had made the trip and felt a great sense of solidarity by our presence,” said Bishop Kicanas, who visited in his position as chairman of the Catholic Relief Service board of directors. The bishops also were in Iraq to help promote stronger collaboration among the various segments of the Catholic Church to help bolster the Christian presence in the country.

“Clearly to the extent that the church in Baghdad can speak with one voice and in a unified way will make more effective their ability to impact on the society,” Bishop Kicanas said. “There is a tremendous amount of good happening by the church in Iraq, but what seemed to be possibly even more helpful is that those efforts to be of service and to help would be more unified.”

The number of Christians in Iraq has declined from about 1.5 million in 2000 to less than 500,000 in 2010, according to Iraqi Christians In Need, a British charity established to address the exodus of Christians from the country. The agency cited long-imposed economic sanctions, continuing violence and the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 as reasons for the mass migration of Christians from the country.

The status of struggling Christians in Iraq was among the topics explored in meetings with Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly, Chaldean patriarch, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni and other Iraqi bishops. Bishop Kicanas and Bishop Murry said church leaders are particularly concerned about the future of young Christians who strive to leave the country because they see no future in remaining.

“The sad reality is that the flight from Iraq by Christians leads to not stability and security but in fact leads to economic difficulty and marginalization,” Bishop Kicanas said. “The (Iraqi) bishops try to explain that leaving isn’t going to be paradise.”

In a country where heavily armed government and private security forces, 10-foot concrete walls and barbed wire barricades are the norm, the American bishops experienced the depth of security concerns Iraqis have throughout their visit. It became readily apparent to them while praying with Syriac Archbishop Athanase Matoka of Baghdad, retired archbishop of Baghdad, at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, where 58 people died in a brutal assault last Oct. 31.

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Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians U.S. Bishops