Europe must rediscover its Christian heritage and not be afraid of promoting openly Christian values, said Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako in an interview this week.
“Europe fell prey to relativism a long time ago,” said the cardinal, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Iraq. “I understand that there are no longer Christian religious classes in Belgian schools, only classes about Islam.”
“There has been much talk about ‘Islamophobia’ but clearly ‘Christianophobia’ should be discussed too,” he noted.
For Christians to openly profess their faith does not destroy an authentic pluralism or the rightful separation of religion from the state, he suggested. In fact, the opposite is true.
“Europe should not be ashamed of Christian values that we in Iraq defended for centuries and this contributed to making a plural society which survived until a relatively short time ago,” he said.
“Christians are afraid of Muslims in Europe but they are not helping Christians in Iraq, a situation which is very dangerous,” Sako said. “Throughout the Middle East Christians are ready to die rather than deny their faith, while many Muslims in Europe are ready to die rather than continue living in a continent where ‘infidels’ make the law.”
The cardinal, in Brussels for a conference and meetings this week, insisted that Westerners who enlist with the Islamic State must be held accountable for their crimes.
“Every country should be responsible for its own citizens, so in my opinion they should be brought back to Europe and judged in their own country,” Sako said. “What we in Iraq would not understand would be if they were permitted to go back home without being held responsible for the suffering and devastation they have caused.”
The cardinal also said that the security situation in Iraq and the Nineveh Plains is precarious at best, with “many militias imposing their own rules.”
While the European Union (EU) could be a big help in this regard, they have done virtually nothing, he said.
Individual European nations, such as Hungary, have provided assistance, but the EU itself “is not helping Christians,” he declared. “They give aid through the United Nations, and the United Nations are not present where there are Christian communities.”
“When we came to Brussels, we were told that our projects for technical schools, dispensaries, centres for women’s education and for orphanages all depended on the Development and Cooperation section, but that they only work via the government in Baghdad,” he said. “We emphasized that if aid was only channeled through government it would never reach the people in need.”
“We can work very well ourselves and manage the money that Christian charities give our projects; we do not understand why the EU does not consider us capable of handling their money,” he added.
Christians are still singled out for persecution, the cardinal said, and being identified as such on official documents paints a target on their backs.
“Christians consistently suffer from discrimination,” he said. “Europe has taken a long time to realize that it is in their own interest that Christians do not disappear from Iraq. We have been there for millennia and we know how to speak to and live with Muslims. We too are citizens of Iraq and we need the EU to put pressure on the Iraqi government to delete religious affiliation from all identity cards.”
“We want to see a separation of Religion and State, marriage with under-age girls made illegal and equality of the sexes in property inheritance,” he said.