LONDON, OCT. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Even when it is not feasible for them, most Iraqi Christians are longing to leave their country, says the archbishop of Baghdad.
Archbishop Jean Sleiman affirmed Saturday in London that a "paralyzing fear" still grips Iraqi Christians. The prelate was speaking to an annual event organized by Aid to the Church in Need.
The archbishop of Iraq's 5,000-strong Latin-rite community said that the decline in violence has not been enough to make Iraqi Christians feel secure.
"Emigration remains the dream of most people," he said. "The hope of emigration -- even when it is not realistic -- represents a kind of salvation for the people."
The Christian community has already dwindled to less than half its number from five years ago. Some 1 million Christians lived in Iraq in 2003; today that number is barely 400,000.
"Very real persecution" remains a huge threat for Christians in some areas, the archbishop affirmed. He explained that in some regions "co-existence under pressure" means that Christians are forced to adopt Islamic practices, including dress, and are encouraged to leave.
Archbishop Sleiman also said there are signs of hope, as support comes from charity organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need.
But he affirmed that the "best way to protect, not only Christians but all the citizens, is to bring back the state of law in Iraq."
ZE08100101 - 2008-10-01