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Bringing the solidarity of the Pope

· Interview with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Francis’ Personal Envoy to Iraq ·

Cardinal Fernando Filoni interprets his mission as Pope Francis’ Personal Envoy to Iraq as one of bringing the solidarity of the Pontiff and of the entire Church to the Christians of Iraq in order to lay claim to dignity and law; and to witness his own closeness to the women and men with whom he has “shared difficult times” and to the people of Iraq as a whole, “who suffer daily” due to a situation into which “external forces have now entered”. The day following the pontifical appointment, the Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples granted an interview to our newspaper.

What responsibilities did the Pope entrust you with at the time of the appointment?

As the Personal Envoy of the Holy Father I bring all of the solidarity of the Pope and also of the whole Church for these brothers and sisters, the poorest today. But I also bring my personal fondness and profound esteem for brothers and sisters whom I met when I was a pontifical representative more than 10 years ago, and for those with whom I shared difficult times, together with all Iraqi people, who almost daily suffer the bloody attacks that debilitate them.

You were Apostolic Nuncio in Baghdad in a particularly difficult period in the country’s history. A dramatic page of suffering for the population of Iraq, and for Christians in particular, who today find themselves living a new and painful experience of conflict. What path is to be taken to regain the lost peace?

I have to say that in these eight years that have transpired since I left Iraq, in truth there has never been peace. We cannot talk about regaining lost peace, because since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been 11 years of blood, of forced migrations, of great suffering due to daily attacks, of sectarian violence, both against Christians and between Sunnis and Shi’ites. And how can one speak of peace with a political situation that has not managed up to now to find a path to understanding? In this situation of weakness, tendencies have grown which are so powerfully opposed as to give life to daily conflict, into which external forces have now entered and from which long-latent forces have emerged, which had been overlooked or ignored. The tragic situation created in the area of Mosul is the single saddest experience of how violence and fanaticism manage to gain the upper hand, even militarily, in this beautiful and extraordinary country, so culturally rich but tragically fragile from its very creation, dating back to 1920. Peace is always a necessity, to want first and foremost, and then to obtain through the commitment of the country’s various constituents. It is an entirely uphill climb bristling with countless obstacles due to divisions among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, and because of the wealth of energy sources, targets of international interest.

The tragic situation of the Christians has ancient roots.

Indeed, it has. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the constitution of Turkey as State, thousands of Christians — Syrians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholics — were killed or expelled. The survivors were deported, fled, and many died of hunger and strife. Between 1915 and 1918 five bishops were martyred, three died in exile; of ten Catholic dioceses only three remained operative; of 250 priests, half were killed along with countless religious. The Apostolic Delegate Giacomo Emilio Sontag was killed in Urmia. Then in the 1960s thousands of Christians were expelled during revolts in Kurdistan, seeking refuge in Mosul, on the Nineveh plain or in Baghdad. We are now facing the third great persecution. Can the Christians of these lands have the right to their home, to be esteemed and respected citizens, to have full recognition of the right to their dignity in the lands of their ancestors?

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