Iraqi Christians who are considering leaving the country should stay
put and play a role in rebuilding their war-shattered homeland, a senior
prelate said in Paris.
"For me, staying and resisting as a
Christian minority is the right way," Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Mirkis
of Kirkuk told reporters during a visit to France to raise awareness and
funds for an interfaith educational project he oversees.
the Iraqi conflict is far from over -- a battle is now raging in the
strategic city of Mosul, although government forces have gained ground
against Islamic State militants -- Mirkis focused many of his remarks on
how to heal his deeply divided country.
He called for nothing
short of a Marshall Plan for Iraq, referring to the American initiative
to aid Western Europe after the devastation of World War II.
The Chaldean Church is based in Baghdad and represents Catholics from Iraq and neighboring countries.
also expressed a wish that an "Iraqi Mandela" could bring peace to a
divided Iraq, referring to the South African leader who brought an end
to apartheid. The archbishop said he worried about the future of
youngsters growing up under Islamic State rule.
"What do we do with the millions who have been educated under it?" he asked.
visit comes as many European countries, including France, have
toughened their immigration policies and are building walls against the
flood of asylum seekers fleeing impoverished and conflict-torn
Refugees are often disappointed, Mirkis said, finding
their families scattered among different countries and disenchanted by
their new lives.
"The effort and money spent to integrate these
immigrants -- if we spent it at home, it would have been a thousand
times better," Mirkis told reporters in Paris, calling for private
investments rather than those that would shore up a "monstrously
corrupt" state economy.
Iraq's Christian population has plummeted
from about 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 300,000 last year, according
to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Vienna-based advocacy group. Some
fear they may disappear altogether.
But Mirkis is not among them.
Kirkuk, he oversees a project helping several hundred university
students --Christians, Yazidis and Muslims -- study and live together,
as a sort of test-tube case for interfaith reconciliation.
described another: the widow of a Japanese reporter who was kidnapped
and killed in Fallujah who funded the building of a hospital in the
"Instead of seeking revenge, she built a hospital and
offered it to those who killed her husband," he said. "There's a lesson
that should be repeated."