Hope running out for Iraqi Christians

  • April 23, 2010
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J.Time is running out on people’s hopes for a tolerant Middle East where the Christian minorities can live in peace, said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., on returning from a trip to Lebanon and Syria.

“We have to create a climate now for the Christians to stay, for the Christians to go back to Iraq and go back to the villages in Galilee. That’s the hope,” said Prendergast.

Prendergast, along with members of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, visited Syria and Lebanon April 5 to 10. About 250,000 of the two million displaced Iraqis in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are Christians. Many seek resettlement in the West and anticipate no prospect for a safe return to Iraq.

“We have to move things toward the place where people can be tolerant and secure,” said Prendergast. “And people are able to live their lives and not have people simply take their houses from them or shoot their children in their beds. This is happening in Mosul and other places in Iraq.”

The forces pushing Christians out of the entire Middle East and not just Iraq will be an important topic at the synod on the region called for the Vatican in October, said Prendergast. But the bishops can’t solve the problems on their own, he warned.

“I don’t know that a whole lot is going to come of it (the synod) other than solidarity of prayer, solidarity in accompaniment of them by priests and religious and holy people who can help them,” he said.

At a meeting with 150 refugees in Damascus April 10, the Western Church leaders told the refugees there were no easy solutions to their problems.

“I think the most important thing we can do, first of all, is to be here and to see you and to let you know that you are in our hearts,” said Msgr. Robert Stern, secretary-general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “Even though we live in Western countries, we cannot control the policies of the countries or the United Nations.”

Nor is it possible for parishes to instantly accept more refugees, Prendergast said.

“Those are the kinds of things you can’t turn around on a dime,” he said.

Prendergast was also wary of suggesting quick fixes for Mideast complexities.

“One of the things I’ve learned in my short time in the Holy Land is that the longer you are there the more complex things seem to be, and the less likely you are to give an easy solution... I wish our leaders in government would address this issue in a way that cares for individuals and families.”

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