"La situazione sta peggiorando. Gridate con noi che i diritti umani sono calpestati da persone che parlano in nome di Dio ma che non sanno nulla di Lui che è Amore, mentre loro agiscono spinti dal rancore e dall'odio.
Gridate: Oh! Signore, abbi misericordia dell'Uomo."

Mons. Shleimun Warduni
Baghdad, 19 luglio 2014

31 gennaio 2020

Amid protests, Iraqi archbishop calls for ‘equal rights and dignity’ for Christians

By Catholic News Agency
Matt Hadro

Iraqi Christians must take an active role in the country’s future if they want a unified, multi-religious Iraq, the Archbishop of Erbil said during a discussion of the country’s future with a U.S. congressman.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil made the call as months of large-scale protests against Iraqi government corruption and perceived Iranian influence continue in the country—one protest last week in Baghdad was estimated to be around 200,000 strong.
Warda said on Tuesday that younger Iraqis are a major part of the anti-corruption protests.
“The corruption is at its high. There are no jobs, no security, the future is not there,” Warda said in a meeting Jan. 28 with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). CNA was granted exclusive access to the meeting, held in Washington, D.C.
“So young people, they see that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, so they said ‘okay, enough is enough, and we need reform,’” he said.
The protesters, Warda told CNA on Thursday, “want a respectful relationship with all the international community respecting the sovereignty of Iraq in all its levels, political, social, religious, everything.
“So the protests are, in a way, protesting for a better Iraq, not just for one community in that sense,” he said, “a better Iraq which has a place for everyone, respecting the diversity and the richness of the Iraqi nation as such.”
The archbishop addressed the United Nations Security Council in December, saying that the protests were a rejection of the post-2003 government, particularly its “sectarian-based constitution.”
Christians, he said, had been welcomed into the protests, a sign of growing demand for a “genuine, multi-religious Iraq” built on a constitution that did not reflect Sharia law, but respected religious freedom.
Pope Francis met with Iraq’s president Barham Salih on Saturday to discuss the need for stability in the country’s future, as well as the importance of Christians to maintaining the “social fabric” of Iraq.

Trump Vows to Reverse Course on Deportations of Iraqi Christians

By Asharq al-Awsat

US President Donald Tru
mp promised on Thursday to reverse course on some deportations of Iraqi Christians whom his administration sought to remove earlier in his term, but gave no specifics.
Trump said during an event at an auto parts manufacturer in the city of Warren, Michigan, that his administration would grant an "extension" to Iraqi Chaldean Catholic immigrants, a group that has been targeted for immigration enforcement during his presidency.

"We're going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm's way," Trump said. "When I get back, we're going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country."

Trump launched a broad immigration crackdown after taking office that included arrests of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics with outstanding deportation orders in the Detroit area, some of whom had lived in the United States for decades.

Some of the arrests took place in Michigan's Macomb County, which Trump won by 53.6 percent in 2016 with the support of many in its Iraqi Christian community.

Federal immigration authorities previously had been unable to remove the Iraqi immigrants because the government in Baghdad would not accept them. But Iraq agreed in 2017 to accept US deportees as part of a deal to remove it from the Trump administration's travel ban list.


Trump vows to reverse course on deportations of Iraqi Christians

Washington Times
Trump promises to stop deportation of Iraqi Christians in Michigan 

Suffocating the Christian existence in the Nineveh Plains

By Rudaw
Ano Jawhar Abdoka *

The descendants of Babylon and Assyria, the grandsons Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Sargon, Ashurbanipal, Shamiram and AssirHadun are suffering from continuing genocide carried out by extremists under the eyes of the whole world. One of the most ancient Christian communities, the faithful of the Church of the East, established by Saints Peter and Tomas the disciples of our almighty Lord Jesus Christ, the Chaldean, Syriac, and Assyrian Churches members, who still pray and speak in Christ's language are suffocating in their historic lands in the Nineveh Plains.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad in 2003, more than 1.5 million Christians were living in Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, but that changed dramatically as soon as the terrorist and extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Militants, and armed criminal militias in Baghdad and south of Iraq targeted Christians on identity because according to them, these Christians have the same faith of the ''crusader invaders.” 
As a result of this, in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul 1350 Christians were killed, thousands more kidnapped, tortured, humiliated, and 111 churches were attacked, and many churches and monasteries were closed, so the vast majority of Christians were internally displaced to the secure and stable Kurdistan region, and relatively secure Nineveh Plains, or migrated outside of the country.
The Nineveh Plains, the historic Christian stronghold, then became the new target and focus of political Islamic extremists  and terrorists following the major attacks on Christians in Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.
On 02/05/2010 the buses carrying Christian students were attacked, resulting in the death of  many civilians, including one female student and wounding more than 103. Worse than the terrorist attacks, organized attempts started to alter the demographic formula in Nineveh Plain supported by proxies of a regional power in order to reduce the Christian influence as the area’s historical majority. In the last recognized census in 1957 Christians represented up to 60% of the Nineveh Plains population, and represented 3.1% of the whole population of Iraq.  
In 2014, more than 14, 5000 Christians lived on the Nineveh Plains. When ISIS attacked the Christian towns and villages, 90% of Christians fled to the Kurdistan region, where the President of Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani opened the doors of the region to Christians and famously said: ''Either all together, Muslims and Christians live in freedom, and equality, or we will all die fighting'', and the government used all the capabilities to help the Christians, even there was no budget coming from Baghdad at that time.
The KRG directly supported the building of 5 new churches in Kurdistan, and Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani granted the local churches in Kurdistan lands to build monasteries, churches, schools, universities, hospitals, and other projects by a size exceeding that of San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican combined, a policy which is further strengthened by current Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. A very tiny number of Christians that remained fled to Kirkuk and Baghdad. The terrorists of the so-called Islamic State destroyed most of the houses, businesses, infrastructure, and churches of the Nineveh Plains. Since the exodus of the Christians from the area, 30% immigrated abroad , 35% returned to their villages after the military defeat of ISIS, and up to 35% are still living in the Kurdistan region, mostly in Ankawa, Erbil, and Dohuk according to different local  clergymen and NGO estimates. 
Even though many internal actors such as the Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, and Evangelical Churches, KRG, NGOs, and international actors such as USAID, Aid to the Church in Need, Hungary, Samaritan Purse, SOS, Knights of Columbus, and others have offered important assistance towards reconstruction in the Nineveh Plains, the vast majority of Christians are not returning. 
Every week, between 4-6 families flee the Nineveh Plains to the Kurdistan Region or go abroad, according to several local clergymen and local official estimates. As a result, hundreds of newly reconstructed houses lie empty.

Why? Because Christians do not feel safe at all.

P. Shamil a Baghdad: la mia vocazione, seguendo mons. Rahho e i martiri irakeni

By Asia News

Una vocazione nata grazie all’amicizia con una suora e un sacerdote, coltivata in seminario e vissuta ogni giorno sull’esempio dei martiri irakeni, la cui testimonianza è fonte di orgoglio per tutta la Chiesa. Così p. Madyan Shamil racconta la scelta di abbracciare il sacerdozio, imparando ad amare il prossimo “come te stesso” secondo l’esempio del Vangelo. Incardinato nella diocesi patriarcale di Baghdad, egli è stato ordinato il 18 gennaio scorso dal card Louis Raphael Sako in una cerimonia vissuta con gioia dall’intera comunità della capitale.
Nato il 29 gennaio 1995 a Mosul, ha fatto il suo ingresso nel seminario nel 2012 e ha concluso gli studi nel 2018, dopo i quali ha trascorso un periodo di studi in Italia, soprattutto ad Assisi, dove “ho imparato ad esercitare la spiritualità”. Attualmente è assistente al parroco della cattedrale caldea di san Giuseppe, a Baghdad.
Ecco, di seguito, l’intervista del neo-sacerdote ad AsiaNews:

P. Madyan, come è nata la vocazione? 

Ho avvertito il desiderio di servire il Signore sin da piccolo. Dopo l’occupazione americana in Iraq [nel 2003], i miei genitori hanno deciso di andare in chiesa ogni domenica. Durante la prima messa abbiamo incontrato una suora, la quale ha chiesto a mio padre di poter fare da insegnante a me e mia sorella. Grazie a lei abbiamo imparato il catechismo, la lingua caldea e anche la preghiera in preparazione alla prima comunione. Siamo diventati suoi ‘figli’ e con lei ho iniziato a sentire la vocazione di Dio, approfondita nel rapporto con p. Hanna Jajika con cui partecipavo alla messa o visitavo le famiglie. In quel momento mi sono innamorato della Chiesa e del ministero del sacerdozio, cui è seguita la passione per la lettura, libri e riviste, in particolare quelli sul sacerdozio e la vita dei santi. Nel 2012, finita la scuola media, ho chiesto ai miei genitori di entrare in seminario e condividere l’esperienza di un mese assieme a loro. Concluso questo breve periodo, dopo aver parlato col vescovo ho deciso di fare il mio ingresso ufficiale a Erbil, con il consenso della mia famiglia. Nel matrimonio, nella vita consacrata, nel lavoro, ciascuno secondo la propria vocazione dobbiamo essere messaggeri di Dio ed essere al servizio degli altri.

29 gennaio 2020

Can Middle Eastern Christians Help Combat Antisemitism?

By Providence
Amanda Achtman & Bawai Soro

Recently, Philos Project Canada Chapter President Amanda Achtman sat down with Bishop Bawai Soro, an Iraqi Christian leader serving Canada’s approximately 40,000 Chaldean Catholics. Bishop Soro is passionate about exploring the common heritage of Iraqi Jews and Iraqi Christians. In this interview, Achtman spoke with Bishop Soro about some of the shared patrimony, the Jewish roots of the Chaldean liturgy, and how, surprising as it may sound to some, Middle Eastern Christians can help combat antisemitism.
Achtman: Tell me about yourself and what led you to where you are now.
Soro: I was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, and baptized at Saint George Assyrian Church of the East. My parents and I then moved to Baghdad where they gave me a religious upbringing. At age 19, I was ordained a deacon in the Assyrian Church. In 1973, sensing the instability of the future, my family emigrated to Beirut, Lebanon, on their way to Australia. But in 1974, matters got complicated because a civil war began in Lebanon. My family then returned to Iraq, but I couldn’t. I became a refugee in Lebanon and ultimately left for the United States, settling in Chicago in 1976.
In 1982, I was ordained a priest for the Assyrian Church in Toronto and, in 1984, was chosen to become the Assyrian Church bishop of San Jose. I pursued a master’s in theology at the Catholic University of America in 1992, and then a doctorate in ecclesiology from the Angelicum in Rome in 2002. Then, in 2008, I, along with 3,000 faithful in the US and Australia, entered in full communion with the Catholic Church. In 2017, I was appointed a diocesan bishop of the Chaldean Church in Canada by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
My Episcopal See is now in Toronto at the Good Shepherd Chaldean Catholic Cathedral. We provide liturgical services and spiritual guidance to 3,000 families in Chaldean, English, and Arabic. Considering everything, during my service of 36 years of episcopal ministry for both the Assyrian Church and the Chaldean Church, I have strived to promote church unity between Assyrian and Chaldean churches, mainly by attempting to eliminate hostilities or divisions among all Iraqi Christians.
Achtman: What do Iraqi Jews and Iraqi Christians have in common? Does anyone care about or even recognize this common background? Why do you think it matters, and why do you find it meaningful?
Soro: Iraqi Jews and Iraqi Christians have a strong relationship and a lot in common, perhaps more than many other adherents of any two distinct religious communities. According to biblical tradition, this relationship starts with Abram, the “Exalted Father,” who was a Mesopotamian-Iraqi, a native of the Sumerian city of Ur of the Chaldees. We know from the Bible that Abram had a religious transformation. God called him to leave Ur and settle in the land of Canaan—a promised land that God gave to him and his posterity. Abram obeyed. He left Ur to Haran with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and then to Shechem in Canaan across the Euphrates, thus attaining the appellation “Hebrew” (i.e., “those who have crossed over”). God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and he became the founder of the special relationship and covenant between God and his people, thus initiating a new age for the “People of God” in their Promised Land.
Judaism, as the first monotheistic religion, begins with Abraham and the Jewish people and becomes fulfilled by the life, ministry, and passion of Jesus of Christ, and Christianity. For the Jews, Abraham is their father both physically and religiously. He holds a paramount position in their thought because it is due to his faith in God that his descendants will be saved. But Abraham, the forefather of the Jewish people, came from Mesopotamia, which meant that somehow Mesopotamia was a “home” for them, as well. After numerous exiles, which resulted in the Jews actually establishing a home in Mesopotamia for more than a millennium, they enjoyed life in large numbers within large territory under circumstances much better than their fellow Jews in Palestine or elsewhere. Since the social, religious, and economic conditions of the Jewish people in Mesopotamia over a long period of time became established, prosperous, and widespread, it is incomprehensible to assume that these people could have vanished or simply ceased to exist. And, given the longstanding indigenous Christian presence in the region, the same was thought of Christians, too.
Achtman: In the Chaldean liturgy, the congregation prays, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, Almighty God. Heaven and earth are full of his glory. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna to the Son of David.” And, during the Eucharistic Prayer, after the priest says, “Lift up your thoughts,” the people respond, “To you, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, the king of glory.” What do you think when you pray this? And does the community realize the Jewish sources throughout the mass?
Soro: For me, when the congregation prays, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,” it is like I am in Jerusalem with the multitude of Jews who received and welcomed the Messiah in the Holy City. Furthermore, there is no other way to understand the human connection of Jesus apart from his relationship with King David. Isn’t this what the Gospel of Matthew tells us? And, as a Christian believer, the God I worship cannot be other than “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel” whom our father in faith Abraham preached about in Ur and in Canaan, and who, at the fulfillment of time, was fully revealed in the Person, life, preaching, passion, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This Abrahamic appellation is not unique to the Chaldean liturgy. The Roman Catholic Church calls Abraham “our father in faith” in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Canon, recited during the Latin Mass. Unfortunately, I don’t think the common Iraqi Christian shares the same understanding of history and theological nuances. Two reasons come to mind: lack of religious training and living for a long time in a culture that is characterized by its tendencies to antisemitism, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. And so, the duty of the church is to explain the history of Christianity and to teach its theology in order to spread the true apostolic teaching of the early church that is based on the virtues of the Gospel.

27 gennaio 2020

Iraq: nessuna notizia sui 4 membri di SOS Chrétiens d’Orient scomparsi a Baghdad

By AgenSIR

Non si hanno ancora notizie dei quattro collaboratori della organizzazione non governativa francese SOS Chrétiens d’Orient scomparsi senza lasciar traccia lunedì 20 gennaio a Baghdad, dove si erano recati anche per rinnovare i propri visti adempiere alcune formalità burocratiche riguardanti la registrazione della propria organizzazione presso gli uffici pubblici iracheni competenti. attività in terra irachena della loro organizzazione. Dei quattro collaboratori – tre francesi e un iracheno – non sono stati al momento resi noti i nomi, per ragioni di sicurezza. In un comunicato diffuso attraverso le reti sociali venerdì 24 gennaio, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient aveva riferito di aver perso i contatti con i propri quattro dipendenti già dal precedente martedì, e di aver denunciato la scomparsa dei quattro alle autorità francesi e a quelle irachene. La Ong francese ci tiene a sottolineare che i quattro impiegati scomparsi sono persone esperte, tutte in buona salute e dotate di una buona conoscenza delle aree di crisi in cui operano, e che hanno sempre realizzato le proprie iniziative nel pieno rispetto di standard di sicurezza continuamente aggiornati per rispondere alle nuove insidie emergenti in quella regione.
SOS Chrétiens d’Orient ha la sua sede principale a Parigi, e si presenta come una organizzazione dedita al sostegno delle comunità cristiane d’Oriente, anche attraverso il finanziamento di progetti sociali e educativi. Attualmente, l’organizzazione è presente con “missioni permanenti” operative in Siria, Iraq, Libano e Egitto. I fondatori dell’associazione, formatasi nel 2013, sono Charles de Meyer (che è stato in passato assistente del deputato di destra francese Jacques Bompard) e Benjamin Blanchard, in passato collaboratore dell’eurodeputata del Front National Marie-Christine Arnautu. Il direttore delle iniziative dell’Organizzazione, François-Xavier Gicquel, è stato anche lui in passato militante del Front National. Secondo dati riportati nel 2019 da Le Figaro étudiant, dall’inizio delle sue attività l’Associazione ha inviato circa 1500 impiegati e volontari ha realizzare i propri progetti in Medio Oriente. Nel febbraio 2017, l’organizzazione è stata riconosciuta come “partner della difesa nazionale” dal Ministero della difesa francese.

Teologi in Iraq e Brasile Liberazione ed Ecocene

By Corriere della Sera
Lorenzo Cremonesi e Annachiara Sacchi

La Chiesa cattolica attraversa in Vaticano una stagione di tensioni. La Chiesa cattolica vive in periferia una stagione di rinnovata militanza.
Ne sono protagonisti il cardinale di Bagdad, Louis Raphaël I Sako, schierato con i «ribelli» di piazza Tahrir, e Leonardo Boff, padre della teologia della Liberazione e, ora, di una nuova teologia dell’ambiente
«No, non ho paura di dirlo ad alta voce. Sostengo apertamente , pubblicamente i giovani di piazza Tahrir, come del resto quelli che scendono a manifestare nelle piazze del sud dell’Iraq: a Bassora, a Nassiriya, a Najaf, a Qarbala, ad Al Kut. Sono la speranza per un Iraq diverso, più umano, più giusto. Tollerante». Occorre sentirlo di persona per capire che al patriarcato caldeo di Bagdad si respira un’aria diversa, aperta, coraggiosa, decisa a cambiare le cose. Non una Chiesa timorosa, piegata su sé stessa, preoccupata soprattutto di non esporsi. Bensì pronta a rischiare, a combattere, a fare sentire la propria voce. La incarna un settantenne dal volto mite, sorridente, piccolo di statura, apparentemente fragile. Apparentemente. Perché appena gli parli le sue parole sono chiare, nette, quasi militanti. «Io credo che qui in Iraq si debbano applicare i parametri della Teologia della Liberazione, della Chiesa che sta con i poveri contro i potenti, contro le ingiustizie, contro i settarismi, che si schiera con coloro che lottano per i diritti contro la corruzione, contro le divisioni, contro i partiti confessionali», dice Louis Raphaël Sako.
Nulla a che vedere con i lunghi silenzi e le reticenze degli anni scorsi. Ai tempi di Saddam Hussein, oltre a lamentarsi della fuga dei cristiani dell e Chiese orientali e del fatto che erano stati abbandonati dal mondo occidentale, gli alti prelati iracheni in genere preferivano restare nell’ombra. Non il cardinale Sako.
Si vede che non è ancora abituato al titolo. «Lo ha voluto Papa Francesco nel maggio 2018. Spero di essere all’altezza. Ma per me qui non cambia niente. Sto con la mia gente», dice mostrando un suo scritto — dopo la visita ai giovani manifestanti di piazza Tahrir ai primi di novembre — in cui traccia «un parallelo diretto tra la Teologia della Liberazione, nata e cresciuta tra le Chiese in America Latina negli anni Sessanta e Settanta del secolo scorso, e la situazione irachena».
La sua immagine di fronte al «Ristorante Turco», il grande palazzo in costruzione che è diventato il quartier generale delle rivolte, ha fatto capolino anche sui social media. Lui è stato applaudito , ma ha anche subito pesanti minacce. Ora la sua abitazione è presidiata dalla polizia notte e giorno. Non è strano che tra i circoli diplomatici occidentali a Bagdad non siano pochi a temere per la sua sorte. «Il cardinale Sako rischia grosso. Sta sfidando apertamente l’Iran e le milizie sciite che lo sostengono. Questo resta un Paese violento, gli omicidi politici sono all’ordine del giorno. Teheran controlla i gangli vitali dello Stato iracheno», ha detto una fonte diplomatica anonima a «la Lettura».
Sako tira dritto. «Io seguo il Vangelo. Qui ci sono ragazzi che vengono rapiti e uccisi ogni giorno. Ma rappresentano anche la prima vera possibilità di rinascita del Paese dopo la catastrofe in cui è piombato dal tempo funesto dell’invasione americana del 2003», spiega.
Cardinale, la stampa locale e internazionale l’ha ripresa mentre andava a piazza Tahrir su un modesto tuktuk, una motoretta. Pare che lei sia stato l’unico esponente religioso a farlo. Quale è stato il suo messaggio?
«Molto semplice: per la prima volta dopo oltre quarant’anni ho compreso chiaramente che quei giovani manifestanti rappresentano un Iraq assolutamente nuovo, un Iraq inedito, mai visto. Anche in Libano accade con le manifestazioni di piazza a Beirut, ma la polizia là non spara. Qui invece sfidano i cecchini e le provocazioni violente dei loro nemici. Noi abbiamo il dovere di ascoltarli. Hanno già perso centinaia dei loro, forse più di 600 uccisi dall’inizio di ottobre; oltre a 22.500 feriti. Sono cifre spaventose. Ma loro continuano. Sono coraggiosi, generosi».
In che senso il loro messaggio è nuovo?
«Questo è un Paese arretrato, spesso primitivo, violento. Trionfano le identità tribali, settarie, beduine. L’idea di nazione e di cittadinanza non esiste; è sconosciuta. Nelle scuole i programmi di studio sono arretrati, premoderni. I giovani manifestanti esaltano prima di tutto l’identità nazionale irachena. Non fanno differenze tra sciiti, sunniti, curdi o altro ancora. Dicono che prima di tutto siamo iracheni, eguali di fronte alla legge e allo Stato, tutti con gli stessi diritti. So che per voi in Europa sono principi scontati. Non qui».
Anche Saddam Hussein, ucciso il 30 dicembre 2006, esaltava il nazionalismo iracheno. Vuole tornare indietro a quegli anni?
«Assolutamente no. Saddam esaltava unicamente il culto della sua personalità. Il suo era uno Stato totalitario, dove gli individui non contavano nulla».
Lei è stato l’unico leader religioso a portare la sua solidarietà in piazza Tahrir...
«È vero. Ho portato con me cibo e medicinali e donazioni in denaro, oltre cinquemila dollari per le loro cliniche che curano i feriti in piazza. Sono stato accolto come un amico, come un fratello. Perché hanno capito che li legittimavo, ascoltavo le loro sofferenze, le loro solitudini. E ho aggiunto che tra i loro slogan uno dei più belli era quello dell’esaltazione della cittadinanza irachena, che significa eguaglianza, libertà, giustizia. Sventolano la nostra bandiera nazionale, non vessilli religiosi».
Però i cristiani continuano a lasciare l’Iraq e l’intero Medio Oriente...
«Vero. Ma il rischio riguarda tutti, non solo i cristiani. Ho notato che in piazza Tahrir ci sono anche tantissimi cristiani. Non temono di piantare le tende sovrastate dalle croci, sfilano assieme e nessuno li tocca».
A che punto siamo con questo esodo?
«Male. Molto male. Ai tempi di Saddam Hussein eravamo 1,8 milioni. Di questi almeno il 75 per cento erano caldei cattolici. Ora siamo scesi a circa 400 mila, di cui metà a Bagdad. Le chiese sono vuote. È evidente che qualcosa non ha funzionato dopo l’invasione americana del 2003».
Dopo il blitz ordinato da Donald Trump per uccidere Qassem Soleimani e i massimi leader delle milizie sciite il 3 gennaio, crede che gli americani debbano andarsene e con loro l’intero contingente internazionale?
«No, non lo credo. Il contingente internazionale, che conta anche un folto numero di soldati italiani, contribuisce a mantenere la stabilità del Paese intero. I deputati curdi e sunniti hanno fatto bene ad astenersi durante il voto parlamentare per l’espulsione».
Ma se gli americani dovessero partire dall’Iraq sarebbe il caos?
«Ovvio. L’Iraq ha bisogno dei soldati del contingente a comando Usa per stare in piedi. E il nostro governo ne è ben consapevole».
Vuole dire che il premier sciita Adel Abdul Mahdi ha solo fatto una sceneggiata di facciata per soddisfare il risentimento dell’Iran, ma in realtà opera per conservare lo status quo?
«Sì, è stato un voto di facciata. Tutto cambi affinché nulla cambi. Gran parte del Paese teme le milizie sciite. Anche tanti cittadini sciiti sono ben contenti che ci siano gli americani. Qui sta prevalendo un grave vuoto di potere e la presenza internazionale ci aiuta. Oltretutto resta vivo il pericolo dell’Isis, che si deve continuare a sorvegliare».
Come mai non ha portato la sua solidarietà all’ambasciata iraniana per l’assassinio di Soleimani? Tanti capi religiosi lo hanno fatto...
«No. Ho fatto appello al dialogo. Ho ripetuto che le grida di vendetta non servono a nulla, se non a riaccendere tensioni. Ho aggiunto che adesso tocca all’Onu tentare di riaprire il dialogo ed evitare il nuovo avvitarsi violento tra botte e risposte».
Perché l’Iraq dopo tutti questi anni non è ancora capace di camminare con le proprie gambe?
«Dopo la guerra del 2003 non si è mai davvero lavorato per la riconciliazione nazionale. Caduto Saddam Hussein, le comunità hanno subito cominciato la competizione violenta per prevalere le une sulle altre. È mancato il dialogo, il confronto. Siamo diventati un puzzle caotico di comunità nemiche in lotta. Capisce ora le mie simpatie per i giovani di piazza Tahrir? Rappresentano un raggio di luce per uscire da questo caos. Vanno aiutati, non osteggiati. Vanno ascoltati e capiti. Per la prima volta dalla fine della dittatura di Saddam abbiamo forze in campo che possono far sperare in un futuro migliore».

23 gennaio 2020

Iraqi minorities concerned about possible US troop withdrawal

By Al Monitor
Saad Salloum

Members of various religious minorities in Iraq say they are worried that a possible US troop withdrawal could negatively affect the future diversity of the country.
Yazidis and Christians said they are especially concerned. In the wake of the victory over the Islamic State (IS), Yazidi and Christian demands were a top priority for the Iraqi government and were often taken on by the international community and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. However, these demands no longer command the same level of public and official interest.
Representatives of minorities were unhappy with the Jan. 5 parliamentary vote for the United States to withdraw dismissed the opinions of minorities, including Sunnis and Kurds, seeing it as a Shiite monopolization of national decision-making.
These representatives say disputes between various powerful groups will likely mean that the minorities will see their territorial bases shrink, perhaps drastically; this may be particularly the case in Sinjar and the Ninevah Valley, where the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government are fighting for influence. There also is the matter of Turkish and Iranian interventions in Iraq. Meanwhile, the US-Iranian conflict is raging, much of it along the Iraqi-Syrian border, even though Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US drone at the Baghdad airport and US bases away from the border have been targeted.
Amid the hubbub surrounding a US withdrawal, there is lack of trust in the Iraqi government. Shiites constitute the largest political grouping in the country, and Shiite elites have stuck with the militias of the Popular Mobilization Units, which often have been in competition with other sectors of society.
Iraqi minorities, because they have a weak demographic weight and limited powers of self-protection, have resorted to the international community — and notably to the United States — as an alternative to the absence or ineffectiveness of the state.
Murad Ismail, executive director of the Yazda organization, said Yazidis “support Iraq’s independence and its firm sovereignty over its territories, but practically, we need international support in the post-IS phase.”
Ismail said that in terms of economics, 95% of labor in the minority areas comes from international support, while the efforts of the Iraqi government are limited. Politically, the US government recognized the Yazidi genocide, and the Yazidi issue has become an international matter. This international recognition earned Yazidis a seat at the table with the Iraqi government; it is likely that the remarkable progress on the Yazidi issue would not have taken place if the matter had been solely left up to the Iraqi government.
Ismail appeared alongside US President Donald Trump when Trump signed the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which offered support to religious minority victims in Iraq and Syria who suffered due to the IS genocide, acts against humanity and crimes of war.
Ismail said, “We need billions of dollars to rebuild the infrastructure in the destroyed areas of minorities and to provide essential services. Without international support, we cannot build a hospital to serve thousands of citizens, as we would like. If Iraq faces the same fate as Iran in the sanctions, this would be the end of our existence, and we would not find any hope to remain in Iraq or return to it.” Trump has threatened severe sanctions against Iraq if US troops are made to withdraw.
Minorities fear that if US troops leave the country and national security institutions are unable to control the chaos, IS might make a strong return and commit new genocides, and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq might join the fray.
Since stability and the return of the displaced are key demands for groups such as Christians in the Ninevah Valley and for Yazidis in Sinjar, minorities want a continued US presence for security, military and other reasons.
Mirza Dinnayi, head of Luftbrucke Irak (Air Bridge Iraq), said, “A deep conflict is raging on the lands of minorities, especially in Sinjar, which is a strategic location to control the borders with Syria. As regional powers, Iran and Turkey are fighting over influence in the region. Amid the weakness of the Iraqi government and the extent of regional intervention, the international presence remains the best option for minorities.” 
Mona Yako, who teaches constitutional law at Salahuddin University in Erbil, said any observer could see that the situation in Iraq is worrisome, involving as it does security disorder, the ongoing protests and the government 's resignation, among other issues. Declaring the military eradication of IS did not reduce fears that IS sleeper cells could redeploy. Under such a development, minorities likely would be the first victims, as occurred in the Sinjar genocide of the summer of 2014.
Yako said, “The situation of Christians is delicate, and their existence on their historical lands is threatened due to ongoing migration. Any security vacuum would multiply the number of migrants and lead to negative effects related to a reduced Christian presence.” 
Although Iraqi citizens and minorities generally seek a stable society and a sovereign state — the main demand of the public protests that took off more than three months ago — ongoing support from a major power with international weight such as the United States remains key for minorities. The United States espouses democratic ideas and human rights’ protection; Yako said minorities see this as a guarantee in case their rights are violated.

MECC Executive Committee Meeting - Cyprus 21- 22 January 2020 - The Final Statemen

Photo by Middle East Council of Churches
By Middle East Council of Churches

Over the course of two days (January 21 – 22/ 2020), the Executive Committee held its regular meeting in Larnaca – Cyprus. The meeting was generously hosted by His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The members of the Executive Committee who participated in the meeting came from Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.
The meeting was presided over by His Beatitude Youhanna X - Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and president of the Council for the Greek Orthodox Family, by His Holiness Mor Ignatius Aphrem II - Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church who is the president of the Council for the Eastern Orthodox Family, by His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael Sako – Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans and president of the Council for the Catholic family, and by Right Rev. Dr. Habib Badr, President of the National Evangelical Union Lebanon and president of the Council for the Evangelical Family.
This meeting is held in the midst of a period full of painful events and suffering plaguing our Middle Eastern countries. The Executive Committee members are fully aware of the suffering, afflictions and challenges faced by the people in the region as well as by Churches. They contemplated the divine affection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His unparalleled love for humanity. They call on Christian believers in the Middle East to hold on to their faith and hope and believe that God is among us, supports us and engages us in His divine life. They also urge the Member Churches of the Council to be fully present next to every refugee and displaced person who is in pain after losing his family, friends or properties due to violence and war so that the churches remain an icon of divine affection and spaciousness.
After the opening prayer, the agenda was approved, and the minutes of the Executive Committee’s meeting held at the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (Atchaneh - Bickfaya – Lebanon/22-23 January 2019) were adopted.
The first day discussions tackled many topics such as spiritual renewal, ecumenical-geopolitical challenges and interfaith dialogue as well as the institutional development of the MECC and its empowerment after the crisis that it has been through. This will lead to the development of its strategic orientation in preparation of the 12th General Assembly. On the second day, the participants discussed the report of Dr. Souraya Bechealany, the Secretary General, that includes the Council’s achievements during 2019 and its future prospects. They also examined the annual reports of the departments as well as the financial report.

Based on the discussions, mainly focusing on the challenges faced by Christians in the Middle East and their partners in citizenship, the Executive Committee stressed the following:

Il Presidente dell'Iraq incontra Papa Francesco sabato prossimo

Il Presidente dell'Iraq, Barham Ṣāliḥ, sarà ricevuto da Papa Francesco sabato prossimo. Il politico è stato ricevuto già il 24 novembre 2018.
Cenni biografici (Wikipedia) Barham Ṣāliḥ è nato Sulaymaniyya, 12 settembre 1960). Dal 2 ottobre 2018 è l'ottavo Presidente dell'Iraq, il terzo consecutivo di etnia curda. È stato vice-Primo ministro del governo di transizione iracheno dal 2004 al 2005, vice-Primo ministro d'Iraq dal 2006 al 2009 e Primo ministro del Governo Regionale del Kurdistan dal 2009 al 2012. Si è scisso dall'Unione Patriottica del Kurdistan (PUK) creando la Coalizione per la Democrazia e la Giustizia.
Barham Ṣāliḥ fu arrestato dal regime di Saddam Hussein nel 1979 per le sue attività legate al movimento nazionale curdo e restò in carcere per 43 giorni nella prigione della Commissione Speciale d'Investigazione a Kirkuk, dove fu torturato.[2] Rilasciato, completò gli studi superiori e lasciò l'Iraq alla volta del Regno Unito per sfuggire alle persecuzioni di cui era vittima.
Vice Segretario Generale dell'Unione Patriottica del Kurdistan
Barham Ṣāliḥ si unì all'Unione Patriottica del Kurdistan (UPK[3]) a fine 1976 e divenne membro del Dipartimento del PUK per l'Europa, e restò in carica nelle sue funzioni d'incaricato per le relazioni estere a Londra. Oltre alla lotta politica, finì i suoi studi universitari e ricevette un bachelor's degree in Ingegneria civile ed edile nella Cardiff University nel 1983. Proseguì i suoi studi e ottenne un Dottorato di ricerca in Statistica e Applicazioni informatiche per l'Ingegneria nella University of Liverpool nel 1987.
Fu eletto membro del vertice dell'UPK nella I Conferenza, quando il Kurdistan iracheno si liberò dal Baʿth in seguito alla prima guerra del Golfo. Gli fu allora affidato il compito di guidare l'ufficio dell'UPK negli Stati Uniti. Dopo la caduta del regime di Saddam Hussein nel 2003, divenne vice-Primo ministro nel Governo ''ad interim'' iracheno a metà del 2004, Ministro della Pianificazione nel Governo di transizione iracheno nel 2005 e vice-Primo ministro nel primo governo iracheno guidato da Nuri al-Maliki, con responsabilità nel campo dell'economia del Paese e come capo del Comitato Economico. Ṣāliḥ è comparso nella trasmissione The Colbert Report il 10 giugno 200 che lo intervistò da Baghdad ed espresse la sua convinzione che i militari USA avevano liberato l'Iraq, dichiarando che numerosi Curdi desideravano l'indipendenza.
Barham Ṣāliḥ fu capolista della Alleanza del Kurdistan nelle elezioni parlamentari del Kurdistan iracheno (2009). La lista si aggiudicò 59 dei 111 seggi. Succedette quindi a Nechervan Idris Barzani come Primo ministro del Governo Regionale del Kurdistan e il suo mandato fu contrassegnato da turbolenze politiche a causa della nascita di un'opposizione (il Movimento per il Cambiamento) che sfidò il governo, mentre il suo partito fu costretto a una profonda riflessione dopo aver perso la città-roccaforte di Sulaymaniyya.
Riuscì a superare la prima mozione di sfiducia nel Kurdistan iracheno, seguita alle proteste curde del 2011 in Iraq.
Firmò il primo importante contratto petrolifero con la statunitense Exxon Mobil dopo aver stilato una bozza e aver emendato una nuova legge relativa agli idrocarburi.
Lasciò la carica di Primo ministro a Nechervan Idris Barzani il 17 gennaio 2012, nel quadro di un accordo politico tra PDK-UPK.
È sposato con la dottoressa Sarbagh Ṣāliḥ, capo della Fondazione Botanica Curda da lei fondata e attivista dei diritti della donna.

Religion Digital

Mientras crecen los rumores sobre una visita al país, Francisco recibe al presidente de Irak

22 gennaio 2020

Come in un risveglio. Il cammino dei rapporti tra la Chiesa cattolica e le Chiese ortodosse orientali

By L'Osservatore Romano
Hyacinthe Destivelle *

Sul cammino ecumenico della piena comunione tra i cristiani occorre un triplice sguardo: sul passato, sul presente e sul futuro. Nel 2019 le relazioni con le Chiese ortodosse orientali — che siano di tradizione siriaca, copta o armena — illustrano bene questa necessità. Lo sguardo sul passato è essenziale innanzitutto per trarre ispirazione dalla nostra storia comune. Con le Chiese ortodosse orientali questo significa risalire al periodo precalcedonese, vale a dire ai primi cinque secoli. La Commissione mista internazionale per il dialogo teologico tra la Chiesa cattolica e le Chiese ortodosse orientali l’ha fatto nel suo documento del 2015, intitolato «L’esercizio della comunione nella vita della Chiesa primitiva e le sue ripercussioni sulla nostra ricerca di comunione oggi». Studiando le espressioni di comunione tra le Chiese nei primi cinque secoli, il documento mostra che «nella maggior parte, in questo periodo queste espressioni di comunione erano informali, cioè non svolte all’interno di strutture chiare». Inoltre, «tendevano ad attuarsi principalmente a livello regionale; non c’era un chiaro punto di riferimento centrale». Infatti, «da un lato, a Roma vi era una crescente consapevolezza di un ministero di più ampia comunione e unità, in particolare dalla fine del III secolo in poi; d’altra parte, non vi sono prove chiare che le Chiese ortodosse orientali abbiano mai accettato un simile ministero» (71). Questa costatazione è un insegnamento importante nell’attuale ricerca della piena comunione con le Chiese ortodosse orientali. Guardare al passato è anche necessario per un’altra ragione: per la purificazione della memoria. La memoria delle nostre Chiese è spesso ferita da una storia conflittuale, alla quale non di rado si mescolano aspetti non teologici di natura culturale, politica o nazionale. Il 2019 ha visto la realizzazione di diverse iniziative in questo campo con le Chiese ortodosse orientali. Nel maggio 2019 si è tenuta ad Addis Abeba una conferenza sulle relazioni tra la Chiesa cattolica e la Chiesa ortodossa etiope Tewahedo. Prima iniziativa del genere in Etiopia, l’incontro mirava a rileggere insieme la storia spesso dolorosa dei rapporti tra queste due Chiese, ai quali si aggiunge la spinosa questione dei rapporti tra Italia ed Etiopia. La rilettura di una storia contrastata è anche una delle dimensioni del dialogo della Chiesa cattolica con la Chiesa ortodossa sira malankarese. Uno dei progetti della commissione mista di dialogo con questa Chiesa, che, come ogni anno,si è incontrata in Kerala nel mese di dicembre 2019, è la pubblicazione comune di un “libro di riferimento sulla storia della Chiesa” che intende presentare alcuni documenti sulla storia controversa del cristianesimo in India fino al XVII secolo.

With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the MECC Executive Committee will meet in Cyprus tomorrow

January 20, 2020

As the Middle East and the Arab World witness a very dangerous period, and the citizens of this region including Christians who are an integral part of the region’s cultural identity, face huge challenges, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins. This Week which is celebrated between the 18th and 25th of January is entitled this year “The natives showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2). Prayers are held in different churches to reflect upon the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews in which he wrote: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” (13:2-3)
In the same context, the Executive Committee of the Middle East Council of Churches will be held tomorrow on the 21st of January for two days in Larnaca. The Committee will discuss issues that are of interest to Christians and their partners in citizenship and responsibility. It will also explore peace building initiatives that are based on Christian values and mainly on replacing isolation by partnership, seclusion by companionship and oppression by mercy.   

17 gennaio 2020

Baghdad: nuovi sacerdoti caldei. Padre Medyan Shamil e Padre Loveen Hanna.

By Baghdadhope*

Come riporta il sito del Patriarcato caldeo si è svolta ieri nella cattedrale caldea di San Giuseppe a Baghdad la cerimonia per l'ordinazione sacerdotale dei due giovani ordinati diaconi lo scorso 18 ottobre: Padre Medyan Shamil e Padre Loveen Hanna.
Alla cerimonia, officiata dal patriarca della chiesa caldea Cardinale Louis Raphael Sako, hanno partecipato i vicari patriarcali caldei Mons. Basel Yaldo e Mons. Robert Jarjis, il vicario patriarcale emerito Mons. Shleimun Warduni, Mons. Yousef Abba vescovo di Baghdad della chiesa siro-cattolica, Mons. Elias Isaac, vescovo di Baghdad, Georgia ed Ucraina della chiesa Assira dell'Est, Mons. Nerses Zabbara, amministratore apostolico della diocesi armeno cattolica di Baghdad, e Mons. Ervin Lengyel incaricato d'affari della Nunziatura Apostolica in Iraq.

Padre Meydan Shamil è nato a Mosul il 29 gennaio del 1995. Costretto insieme ai genitori ed alla sorella ad abbandonare la città al momento della sua presa da parte dell'ISIS nell'agosto del 2014 si è rifugiato con loro ad Ankawa, il sobborgo cristiano di Erbil, la capitale della regione autonoma del Kurdistan iracheno. Laureato al Babel College ed al Pontificio Collegio Urbaniano di Roma dove si è qualificato come primo del suo corso, ha trascorso un anno presso il monastero francescano di Assisi per approfondire la conoscenza dell'italiano.
Padre Loveen Hanna
è nato l'8 agosto del 1990 ed ha due fratelli e tre sorelle. Laureato in Amministrazione Aziendale presso l'università di Dohuk nel 2014 ha insegnato nella scuola superiore di Manghesh, un villaggio cristiano del nord Iraq dove, dal 2009 al 2011 ha partecipato al corso di preparazione teologica.

16 gennaio 2020

Christians in Iraq welcome 2020 with confidence and desire for change

By Al Monitor
Saad Salloum

In 2021, Iraqis will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Iraq. In light of the current major changes in Iraq, Iraqi Christians feel 2020 will be different. They welcomed the new year with a different spirit and unprecedented optimism.
Bartella is a town with a Syriac majority in the Ninevah Plain, east of Mosul, which has played a prominent role in the history of the Syriac Church. In front of the Mar Korkis Church, Christians have set up a Christmas tree, hung with photos of people killed in the recent protests. At the base of the tree are photos of the security forces members killed during operations to liberate Ninevah from the Islamic State (IS).
​In the eyes of Iraq’s Christians, the war against IS and the recent protests are two critical steps for regaining national identity. The war against IS united Iraqis of different religious affiliations, just as the protests have brought them closer.
Activist Jamil al-Jamil from Un Ponte Per, or A Bridge To, an Italian-based humanitarian organization, said the Christians who visited the Bartella Christmas tree to light candles and pray were like pilgrims visiting a symbol of a homeland that they will be born in 2020.
The optimist of the visitors seemed unprecedentedly high, not limited to encouraging the protests.
Assyrian blogger William Bnyameen, known as Khlapieel, called for changing the name of the Kurdistan region, as he believes the term carries a racist connotation. “Kurdistan,” he said, does not reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of the region. He said “north Iraq region” would be a more neutral designation.
Khlapieel feels Christians will welcome 2020 with more self-confidence and determination to achieve their demands, which would strengthen their presence in the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq. “With the golden jubilee of the founding of the modern state of Iraq in 2021 approaching, the fate of Christians in the Middle East will be decided from Iraq," he said. "Either a struggle for our permanent and efficient presence or an exodus from the new Middle East without Christians.”
Mona Yako, a professor of constitutional law at Salahaddin University, attributed Christian optimism to the changes they have been witnessed at the beginning of 2020, as they felt more tolerance in a diverse society.
“From time to time, hate speeches and religious edicts emerged to shake societal peace," she said. "Fatwas were even issued forbidding holiday greetings at times. This made us feel alienated and ostracized. But the solidarity among youths of various religions in Tahrir Square rekindled hope in a national identity that can unite us despite our difference. The New Year celebrations and the Christmas tree in Tahrir Square prove that we are an integral part of the Iraqi people.”
In turn, Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, gave a theological interpretation of the protests, describing them as stemming from “liberation theology.” He told Al-Monitor that the protesters, some of whom were killed and others wounded, are Christ-like in the sacrifices they are making for truth and justice. “It is striking that the main denominator among the young protesters in Iraq and Lebanon is their belief in their land, their homeland, their legitimate rights and their future despite the deep-rooted structural corruption since 2003,” he said.
Sako said the protests are peaceful and in the manner of Christ, who came to this world preaching nonviolence. He further cited the example of Mahatma Gandhi, who peacefully stood up to British colonialism in India, and Nelson Mandela, who fought apartheid in South Africa. “This is exactly what the protesters of Iraq are doing," he said. "They are carrying the Iraqi flag and chanting, ‘We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Iraq.'"
Sako said the time has come to unite Iraqi Christians under one denomination, which is "the Christian component," rather than using the national designations of Chaldean, Assyrian or Syriac.
He called for establishing a single political grouping that includes all Christians. Iraq “has undergone transformations since 2003 that provided opportunities that Christians failed to seize," he said. "Today, Christians are facing a great challenge to reinforce their presence and role, especially as the country heads toward early elections.”
Sako urged Christian elites to make a self-assessment and assume responsibility for reuniting their ranks. “Christians face fateful challenges,” he said, “most notably the shrinking Christian population due to emigration; the weak political representation, since the major political currents are taking up all the representation quota; the dispersion of the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian parties; the demographic change of their historical areas; and the legislation that is unfair to them and to others.”
He added, “It remains crucial to amend the constitution and the personal status laws. These are essential issues for the survival and historical perpetuation of the Christians in Iraq.”
The importance of Sako's call is rooted in deep Christian fragmentation. Iraq is home to 14 different Christian sects, represented by 12 political parties. On top of this, there are five different armed Christian factions. This state of fragmentation remains a stumbling block to form unified Christian political views concerning the future of Iraqi Christians and their relationship to Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Furthermore, his call aims to bring all Christians under one umbrella to form a political alliance of all parties, instead of maintaining a divide between the Christian and national parties.
Sako stressed the need to promote and develop Christian relations with Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Yazidis and Mandaeans. “It is necessary to reach an agreement with them on common constitutional concepts related to a fair civil state and the status of indigenous minorities in it, in a manner that preserves their rights,” he said. 
He expressed his support for a comprehensive meeting among the various representatives of these components to achieve a sense of nationalism and welcome the new year in a spirit of “unity in diversity.”

15 gennaio 2020

Vatican Diplomacy & the Iraq War

By Commonweal
Paul Moses

On Ash Wednesday 2003, a high-level envoy from the Vatican visited the White House to hand-deliver a letter from Pope John Paul II to President George W. Bush. The president set the letter aside and was soon engaged in a pointed and sometimes heated debate with the emissary, Cardinal Pio Laghi, over his administration’s plan to go to war with Iraq.

The following month, I made the first of several attempts over the years to get a copy of that letter through the Freedom of Information Act. Last month, the archivist at the George W. Bush Presidential Library contacted me with the news that my “Mandatory Declassification Review” had been granted.
I wish that I could tell you that the declassified letter contains some startling new information, but the pope’s opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq is well known. Since President Donald Trump has brought U.S. relations with Iran and Iraq to the brink of catastrophe with his order to slay Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3 in Baghdad, it is a good time to recall John Paul II’s deeply held objections to the Iraq war and the tepid reaction from many American Catholics.
The pope did not detail his case against the war in his letter. Instead, he urged Bush to heed what Laghi was going to tell him. John Paul notes in the letter that in dispatching Laghi, former papal nuncio to the United States, he was sending someone “whom I am sure you know.” Laghi was a family friend of the Bushes; he’d been a tennis partner of former President George H. W. Bush. But this was no social call.
“I ask you to receive him as my personal Envoy and to listen to the message that he bears on my behalf,” the pope wrote. “It represents what lies in the depth of my heart for the good of all people.”
While substantial segments of the news media and members of Congress from both parties swallowed the claims Bush made about the danger Iraq posed, the pope and his envoy did not. In a detailed account he gave in a speech seven months later, Laghi described the encounter.
When Bush dominated the conversation, Laghi told him: “I did not come here only to listen, but also to ask you to listen.” When Bush claimed that al-Qaeda was training soldiers in Iraq, Laghi retorted, “Are you sure? Where is the evidence?” 

These would be good questions for Trump, too, as he makes misleading claims about the conflict with Iran. But it’s hard to imagine Trump having a lengthy, detailed conversation like the one Laghi and Bush had.
“We spoke for a long time about the consequences of a war,” Laghi said. “I asked: ‘Do you realize what you’ll unleash inside Iraq by occupying it?’ The disorder, the conflicts between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds—everything that has in fact happened.”
Bush responded that the result would be democracy. The president tried to end the meeting on common ground, speaking about his opposition to abortion rights and cloning. “The cardinal replied that those issues were not the purpose of his mission,” Catholic News Service reported.
The letter makes clear that St. John Paul II fully backed what Laghi said—the cardinal told reporters after his meeting with the president that the war would be both “unjust” and “illegal” because it lacked United Nations sanction. And the letter, along with the high-level, personal diplomacy involved, shows how deeply convinced the pope was that this war in particular was a disaster in the making, one that would further poison Christian-Muslim relations, a subject so important to him. He was not going to be bowled over by what turned out to be false claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Even though the pope used all of his influence to try to stop the war, the reaction among American Catholics was noticeably cool. With the start of the war three weeks after Laghi met with Bush, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, then the vicar for U.S. military services, issued a letter to Catholic chaplains stating: “Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops issued a letter urging Bush to “step back from the brink of war,” but it received little attention—possibly because their moral credibility was shot with the clergy sex-abuse scandal, but also because most bishops failed to speak up about the war in their dioceses. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, where I live, the diocesan newspaper ran so many columns disputing John Paul’s view of the war that I wrote one defending the pope. At the time it seemed to be a strange thing to do—to have to defend the pope from a diocesan newspaper’s coverage.
Others would try to reinterpret the plain meaning of what the pope and Vatican officials were saying, or argue that as a religious leader, John Paul lacked the competence to apply just-war principles in a specific case. “The questions raised to religious spokesmen are inescapable: On the basis of what expert knowledge do you advocate policy x against policy?” the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus wrote. “By what authority or by whose authority do you speak?”
Pope Francis will face such questions too, as he tries to calm tensions that once again threaten to worsen relations between Muslims and Christians—which he, like John Paul, has strived to mend. He began with a statement after the Angelus prayer on January 5, warning, like a string of his predecessors, that “War brings only death and destruction.” He added: “I call upon all parties to fan the flame of dialogue and self-control, and to banish the shadow of enmity.”
“Self-control”: an interesting choice of words to apply to world leaders. All the more reason to join in repeating words St. John Paul II wrote to Bush: “I implore God to inspire you and all those charged with the highest civil authority to find the way to lasting peace, the noblest of human endeavors.”