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The Pope in Iraq

I found it heartwarming that the pope decided to visit Iraq. (Maybe the timing of the trip was not ideal, what with the corona situation, but apparently they took strict precautions. Security must have been quite an issue, too)

     One of the reaons for the trip was to draw attention to the rapid exodus in recent years of Christians from the Middle East. For example, the Iraqi Christian community, which numbered 1.4 million twenty years ago is now reduced to 250 000. Most have fled abroad to escape violence and discrimination. There are many in Europe, including Finland, including Kerava.

     It is a reminder of how richly diverse the worldwide Church is. The Iraqi Christians are Chaldean Christians – Catholics with an Orthodox liturgy. How unusual their ways would seem to us, and ours to them. Their Christian community was already about 1400 years old when the Reformation took place and our Lutheran church appeared on the scene. For most of their history they have lived under Muslim rule. Perhaps surprisingly, conditions for Iraqi Christians under the notorious dictator Saddam Hussein were reasonable, but their situation has become far more dangerous after he was defeated, with extremist Muslim fundamentalists carrying out numerous attacks on them.

     One could feel depressed about the way things have gone in only one generation – a very short period of time, especially by Middle Eastern standards. I choose, however, to find hope in their story. Twenty years of mayhem cannot wipe away the 1 300 or so years of relatively peaceful co-existence between Muslim and Christian Iraqis that preceded it. One glance at the history of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean reveals that tolerance and peaceful co-existence are the norm, not the exception. Let us pray for a swift return to that normality for Iraqi Christians.

Chris Montgomery      

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