Sees a Kind of Genocide Underway

ROME, MARCH 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq laments that the faithful are "losing hope" in the war-torn nation.

Father Philip Najim, procurator to the Holy See for the patriarch of Babylon, commenting to ZENIT on the situation of Catholics in Iraq, said that the "only armament we have to create peace is our prayer."

Father Najim said that, in addition to traditional Lenten sacrifices, Iraqi Catholics need to witness the peace of Christ in their behavior and attitudes by drawing strength from God.

The priest described daily life in Iraq as a kind of genocide. The daily plague of kidnappings, deaths, bombings, fear and instability, coupled with the cumulative effects of the U.N.-imposed trade embargo that lasted 12 years, have all but demolished a culture that has roots deep in pre-Christian history.

He added that he hopes that Christians in Iraq will find new strength by turning to God anew this Lent: "When we find ourselves in very complicated situations, we often recognize the limits of our humanity and can find strength again in God, our Creator."

Father Najim said that Christians in Iraq date back to the first century. The Chaldean Church has its own patriarch, who is seated in Baghdad, and retains its own theological, liturgical and canonical traditions, while maintaining full communion with Rome.

In Baghdad before the war, 35 parishes were flourishing. Now, many of the churches have been destroyed, and priests are limited to celebrating the liturgy only on Sundays, he said.

Uprooted

Father Najim added that Chaldean Catholics in Europe number more than 80,000. These represent, in part, the "diaspora" who have fled Iraq to escape the bloodshed. In the United States, there are two Chaldean Catholic Dioceses that include many Iraqi expatriates.

Catholics in Iraq are a minority, but nonetheless, they play an important role, he added.

Regarding the role of the Church in Iraq, the priest said: "Christians bear a powerful witness by their attitudes and way of life.

"We have built our cultures and traditions, families, friendships and faith, and we have always been friends with our fellow Iraqis."

Father Najim said that Church leaders in Iraq have invited all people to pray for peace and unity during Lent.

He added: "The freedom and dignity of the person are primary in our Catholic faith, and they are the basis for peace.

"There can be no democracy unless it comes from within, and there can be no democracy without freedom."

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