Fr. Marek Luczak talks with bishop Krzysztof Nitkiewicz, an expert of Eastern Churches, about the tragic situation of Christ's followers and representatives of other religious minorities in Iraq, about the history of the church there and about why we should not be indifferent to these religions

Fr. Marek Luczak: - In publications of Bishop, one can find out about 22 Catholic Eastern Churches. We will not be able to discuss all communities, so we want to concentrate on the Chaldenian Church, which lives in the conditions of persecutions today. What can we say about it?

BSHOP KRZYSZTOF NITKIEWICZ: - This Church reaches back to apostolic times with its roots. I often heard that Chaldenian priests emphasized that they used the same Syrian language in liturgy as Jesus. Besides that, the same was said by the Maronici and Syro-Catholics, although they celebrate liturgy in Arabian more and more frequently. According to the tradition, the first evangelizers of the lands of today's Iraq were St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Tadeusz, known as Mar Addai. The latter one founded bishops' headquarter near today's Bagdad. At that time these were royal cities situated near each other, Seleucja and Cresifonte. That ancient Church was called Asyrian or Mezopotanian. It accepted the doctrine condemned by the Efes Council, about the existence of two people in Christ, and, in this way, it broke its unity with other Christian Churches. The unity with Rome was returned in 1553 by the patriarch Jan Sulaka, who submitted the Catholic confession of faith to the pope Juliusz III. The name of the Church was changed from the Asyrian into Chaldenian. At present it has over half a million of believers living in various parts of the world. In Iraq it has 10 eparchia (dioceses) and the same number abroad. It is difficult to say how many believers are in Iraq, maybe one fifth, or maybe less. Most of them escaped to Syria, Jordania, Lebanon and to the West. The superior of the Chaldenian Church is the patriarch of Babilonia for the Chaldenians Loius Raphac I Sako. In Iraq there is also an orthodox Asirian Church of the East and other eastern Churches, the Latin Church and protestant Churches.

- So far, the persecution of the Christians has been related to incidents. Did programme elimination of Christianity appear today? This is the impression made by the representatives of the Islamic country proclaimed in Iraq.

- I remember that when I went Iraq in 2001 for the first time, at official ceremonies in churches I saw supreme representatives of authorities. However, these were only semblances because during the reign of Saddan Husajn the Christians did not have an easy life. The most tragical period started just after the Second World War in the Persian Bay, ten years ago. We must not forget that at the turn of February and March 2008, a chaldenian archbishop Mosulu, Paulos Faraj Rahho (of Niniva) was kidnapped and killed. The same fate touched many other priests and laymen. Now we have a real escalation of crimes against the Christians. The so-called Islamic Country, proclaimed in the end of June this year in Iraq and in eastern Syria, is simply a terroristic organization. Its leader – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and jihadi warriors are aiming at eliminating everything which is not righteous, that is, muslim – no matter if these are people, churches or monuments. They destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonas, burnt many temples and ancient cloisters, hang out their black flags, but the worst thing is how they treat the Christians. When they conquer a town, mark Christian houses with a paint, turn off gas and electricity, cut off water, then give time so that people would convert to Muslim. If they do not convert themselves, they are thrown away from their houses and if they oppose, they are killed in a cruel way or kidnapped and raped. In other places, the Christians pay high taxes, the so-called dzizja and must follow the law of szariat. The bishop in Bagdad - Shlemon said about terrorists of the Islamic Country in the recent time that even devils would not use such methods in bringing so much suffering.

- Is brutality of the Islamists really appearing from Koran? How is it seen by other Muslims? What is szariat?

- There are various schools of interpreting Koran, sometimes very radical ones, therefore, it is difficult to generalize. It is reflected in Koranic law – szariat. It is different in life when there is intimidation, de-information. Iraq authorities are undoubtedly helpless towards Islamic fundamentalists. Whereas there are rumours about the Muslims who are helping the Christians. They participate in mediation talks aimed at freeing kidnapped women and Christian children. This is a high risk in their case. Also supreme Islamic priests and authorities of respected Muslim countries cut themselves off from terrorists of the Islamic Country. Despite that, in some of these countries the existence of extreme Islamic groups is tolerated which allow for all possible methods in order to impose, widespread Islam and, let's say, in a very strict version. Some people say about wahabity, the others exchange other groups, it would be difficult to point explicitly with which trend of Islam terrorists identify themselves. They also have many sponsors in the person of rich gang leaders and a big group of warriors come from Europe. Their victims are also other minorities like the jazyds. However, the Christians are the target number one. Today Islamic terrorists would like to reconstruct kalifat that is, centralize church and secular authority over Muslim countries. It is a big danger not only for the Near East, but also for other regions, because they will not stop. I am sure that this process and the so-called political islam are a danger for our civilisation. Therefore a worldwide mobilization of forces and means is needed in order to oppose to it.

- What can we, as Poles, do in this matter?

- The Church in Poland showed its solidarity with the Christians in Iraq and the Near East on many occasions. The Holy Father Francis, however, said that we must not stop thinking about what is happening there, that this should scare us all the time. Tens of thousand refugees, raped women, orphaned and kidnapped children, all this must prompt us to a prayer and penance for persecuted sisters and brothers in Christ. There is also a possibility of giving material support via Caritas or in any other way decided in dioceses. Our politicians and mass media have more possibilities to act, each of them in a sphere suitable for them. One thing is certain – we cannot be passive towards agony and suffering of defenceless people! Deceased Chaldenian patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly once told me that as a young seminarian he met Polish soldiers from Anders' army in Mosul. After captivity and moving from USSR, they were terribly thinned and in pains, and local Christians showed them great friendliness. Now it is our turn.


„Niedziela” 40/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl