Middle East peace impossible without Christians, says Baghdad patriarch

Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.Reuters

The mass expulsion of Christians from the Middle East will make peace and reconciliation increasingly difficult, according to Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.

Patriarch Sako told Catholic News Service that there were growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who "are killing each other".

"We Christians, we always bridged the groups and we promoted dialogue, reconciliation and forgiveness," he said.

Now, however: "The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent. Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them."

He criticised Western politicians for failing to speak of 'Islamic extremism'. "This is not the truth because these groups, ISIS and others, are basing their actions on the holy Qur'an," Sako said, adding that they constantly recited sayings of the prophet Muhammad "even when they burn (people)".

He said: "Of course, all Muslims are not fanatics or terrorists, but there are groups that want to establish an Islamic state with Islamic law as it was in the 7th century."

Sako criticised fundamentalist ideology, saying that the extremists did not accept anything that didn't fit their vision of Islam. "This is a kind of purification and, of course, Christians and other minorities are a target," he said.

Patriarch Sako was among the keynote speakers at a December 10-12 international conference on Christian persecution. Another speaker, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, stressed the need to "speak up for the persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East".

"We must not allow them to be forgotten. We must not engage in an unholy silence," he told CNS.

Archbishop Lori said religious persecution and threats to religious liberty are "two sides of one coin".