(Vatican Radio) The continuing presence of courageous men and women religious is Iraq is an important sign of hope amid the suffering of the Christian population there. That was the key theme of a report released by two Dominican leaders who recently visited Baghdad and the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region.
The mid-January visit was at the invitation of the Dominican brothers and sisters in Iraq who often feel forgotten as they struggle to support Christians threatened by the daily violence of the so-called Islamic State militants. Over a hundred thousand mainly Christian and Yazidi people fled to Erbil and the surrounding region as the militants captured the city of Mosul last June, threatening and killing those who would not convert to Islam.
Fr Timothy Radcliffe is former Master of the Dominican order – he told Philippa HItchen why the West must take responsibility and do all it can to help end the conflict that is devastating the region…
Fr Timothy says one of the things the visit to Iraq made clear was the way that Western intervention in the country, together with suffernig and increasing inequality" has helped to fuel the conflict in the region….
At the present time he says it’s impossible to imagine any dialogue with the so-called Islamic State, but he adds there are many Muslims they met in Baghdad who long for dialogue and constructive engagement with the West. He notes that the Dominicans established the Baghdad Academy of Human Sciences to provide just such a place of dialogue and debate: of the 5.000 students enrolled in the academy, up to 80% are Muslims.
Fr Timothy warns there’s a “real danger that one of the oldest Christian communities in the world will disappear”. While it’s very understandable that people are fleeing, he says he also met “many brave, educated people who say we must stay”.
Asked about the toll that the violence is taking on the Dominican brothers and sisters in Iraq, the former head of the Order says Baghdad is such a tough and exhausting place that the religious try and get away periodically for some time of rest and renewal. Their endurance and continued presence there, he insists is “such a symbol of Christian hope”
In the camps around Erbil, Fr Timothy says, the situation is much less dangerous and the order may consider sending groups of young people to the region for a short period to “meet, work, play, learn from and teach other young people in the camps”