Christians fleeing Iraq find Church stretched thin in Europe

Chorbishop Philip Najim.
Chorbishop Philip Najim.

.- Despite the relative calm that has settled over Mosul, Iraq since the May 2 bombing of buses carrying university students into the capital from towns nearby, fear hangs over the remaining Christian population of the diocese. According to Chorbishop Philip Najim, who is serving as the Apostolic Visitor of the Chaldeans in Europe, the “chaos” is not just limited to the Chaldean Christians still in Mosul.

On June 25, the Italian bishops' news service SIR published an interview with Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Emil Shimoun Nona who explained that between the unstable government, problems resulting from the lack of electricity and fear, the Christian population of the diocese has been cut in half by people fleeing the volatile, hostile environment.

The local population of Christians now stands at approximately 10,000 people, he reported.

Seeking to learn more about the situation, CNA spoke with Chorbishop Najim, who was appointed by the Pope to establish parishes for the Chaldean community in Europe and provide for their pastoral care. In the Eastern Church, chorbishops assist bishops in carrying out their duties.

Chorbishop Najim told CNA that an “unknown force” is pushing the people out of the area, and while many countries have accepted the emigrants, including the European countries he oversees, the process is “unsystematic.”

“You can imagine the chaos we are living,” he said. He described the desperation of the people to escape the situation, driven by a loss of hope in their government and a lack of faith in their future.

The problem not only threatens the current generation of Chaldeans in the diocese, continued the chorbishop, but also those to come.

Regarding their presence in Europe, Chorbishop Najim said that he and 20 priests are working in collaboration with the European bishops to provide for those who emigrate to Europe.

But the clergy is stretched thin when it comes to meeting the numerous challenges associated with caring for the beleaguered Iraqi Christians. The chorbishop and the priests serving with him must maintain the Church’s identity, provide pastoral assistance, conduct social work, provide education and integration, and work with governments, he said.

Chorbishop Najim added that they continue to work toward an unknown future “day by day, step by step,” under the guidance of the Church, especially the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, whom the chorbishop said, “is like a father to us.”

The chorbishop said hopes that the international community will rally to put an end to the suffering of Iraqis and that a sense of responsibility among political leaders to take action will prevail.

He also called October's Synod for the Middle East, "a very urgent issue for the Christians in the Middle East and for the immigrated Christians outside.

"Our faithful are looking for a serious move and authentic care from the universal Church so they will feel they are considered," he said. "It is a sign of hope and belonging to the Catholic Church."

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