An archbishop in Iraq has appealed for Christians to stay in the Middle East, saying that they have "no choice" but to help bring about peace to the troubled region.
Bashar Warda, the Catholic Chaldean archbishop of Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, said that the Church must play a role in "rebuilding the future", providing jobs for communities and helping people to preserve their dignity.
Archbishop Warda, who is opening the Catholic University of Erbil, told the National Review: "The Middle East needs Jesus. Christians need to stay. And not just to stay, but to live in a dignified way, and to be able to preach and to give Jesus. In the midst of all this violence, Jesus is needed."
He continued: "A violent, troubled Middle East needs mercy. Jesus is mercy...Most of the communities that you have here — they came running from violence, from persecution, looking for a better life...Enough of wars, enough of violence, enough of all these atrocities. We have to help people live a peaceful life. There's no other choice."
Of the university, the archbishop added: "It's a sign of strength. When people would destroy your churches and your monastery and try to destroy you, you have to come up with a clear message, not just in words that we are here and this is the future. It's not just we are here, but we also have something strong here."
Warda said that Christians and the Church must not accept "victim status" in the region. "I would like that the Church would have a role in rebuilding the future," he said. "I don't like to see our people marginalized. Being a victim is a sad story, but to accept this status that you are a victim is a tragedy. So you have to encourage people to really speak and act and to take an action, provide also some decent jobs for our community."
Many Christians stuck in refugee camps in Erbil feel abandoned by Christians in the West, according to a report published this month by Aid to the Church in Need.
Already there are more than 1.4 million displaced people in refugee camps in northern Iraq.
Around 125,000 Christians were forced from their homes when ISIS launched its offensive in northern Iraq in 2014. The attack, which left Christians with the choice of converting to Islam under threat of death or fleeing, first hit predominantly Christian Mosul in June that year, and then two months later came to surrounding towns in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.