On a humid DC afternoon, I went over to the US Catholic Conference Building to attend a briefing by six Iraqi Christian leaders. Three of the leaders reside in Iraq and three are leaders of the refugee community in the United States. This is the first combined delegation of Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, Orthodox and Protestant Evangelical Churches.
Those residing in Iraq spoke of how each of them had been in “near misses” in bomb attacks either outside their homes or offices. One spoke of watching a window “shake” as it began to implode. He ducked under his desk and was protected. Another recounted a similar tale, but said that the glass had been imbedded in the wall right behind where he was sitting before he dove for cover. It highlighted for us the fact that there is not a secure environment in Iraq.
All of the Leaders recounted that the Iraqi people are suffering, but that Christians are being targeted as a specific population. They begged for the United States to work with the Iraqis to create a strong stable government. It is of utmost importance to ensure that the government ministries are functioning as neutral providers of services rather than serving sectarian interests. They also highlighted that education and health care are in short supply in part because of the poorly functioning government and lack of basic security. The Christian leadership urged the development of job opportunities and a working infrastructure (electricity and water especially).
Finally, the Iraqi leaders both residing in the U.S. as well as in Iraq, shared their grave concern for the refugee and internally displaced population. They want their fellow Christians to be safe, but their preference is that no more leave the Middle East. This is a big dilemma that is difficult to resolve. All of the Middle East is losing its Christian population and their rich 2000 year history. Iraqis look to St. Thomas the Apostle and 42 A.D. as the root of their faith. We need to remember “There are Christians in Iraq!”
But when it came to what they were seeking in the US, they were not clear and had extremely high expectations of what the United States government can do to make the Iraqi government improve. I did not hold their same optimism as the US government is treating the Iraqi government more at an arm’s distance. It made me worry for their disappointment in the future after their 6 days together in our city. I pray that I’m wrong in my assessment. It also renews my commitment to keep working on this important issue. We cannot abandon the Iraqi people once the US troops are removed. We need to stay engaged on the diplomatic and aid level. We can make a difference…I hope.