Baghdad – ” We will not take one step backwards in the face of injustice. On the contrary, we will be even more tied to our land, to our ideals of patriotism and continue to live our love for our fellow citizens [even Muslims],  for the mere fact that they are our brothers” says the Chaldean Patriarchate of Baghdad, in a statement sent to AsiaNews on the eve of the celebrations for Christmas, in a climate of suffering, persecution and abuse towards the Christian community.

In Iraq “we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ who comes into our hearts in silence and tears” writes the leader of the patriarchate, but “despite these trials” the goal is to build “a more just country and a better future”.

His Beatitude Mar Raphael Louis Sako, who tomorrow will open the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Baghdad, also expresses “heartfelt thanks” to those who “have supported the cause of human rights in Iraq,” values ​​that should concern “all citizens”, Christians and Muslims, “without distinction”.

“The feast of the Nativity of Christ, the bearer of peace and justice – continues the message – is one of the most important festivals, celebrated by millions of Christians around the world”. However, this year the Iraqi Christian community is approaching the event “in deplorable conditions” for both the progressive “deterioration of the situation at all levels” and for some specific facts that have targeted Christians.

Firstly the Patriarch remembers the conditions of at least 120 thousand people forced to flee their homes in Mosul and the plain of Nineveh, by the Islamic state (IS), which has controlled the territory since the  summer 2014 through violence and terror. This is the second Christmas that these displaced families will spend far from their homes and from their land, with no prospect of return.

The problem is not unique to the families of the north, but also involve the same community of Baghdad. As reported by the Patriarchate, recently Christian families have been subject to targeted attacks and expropriations by gangs and extremist groups. The latest case in recent days, when a family “was threatened and robbed in broad daylight.”

Moreover there are “legislative” problems that make the Christian community (the Church leaders of Iraq do not want to describe the community as a minority given that it is part of the political, social and economic development of the country) ” a victim of discrimination. “

In particular, the Patriarch points to the controversial law on identity cards, which involves the “Islamization” of children in the event that one of the parents converts to Islam. “The behavior of persons elected to represent us – the statement  reads – of our deputies, has caused deep wounds in the heart of Christian families and their children. It is as if the fundamental rights and freedoms did not pertain to us”.

“As a sign of national unity – he continues – we expect our deputies formalize the celebration of Christmas as a national holiday,” as “the former Prime Minister of Iraq promised and as is already the case from 2012 in Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region. ” Making Christmas a celebration of Christians and Muslims would, for the patriarchate, be a strong sign of closeness and integration.

In reality, this ideal of fraternity “does nothing to move backward.” In this regard the patriarchy denounces what happened in Baghdad on December 13 last year, when “members of Shiite militias” posted images of the Virgin on the houses of some Christian families. The portraits were accompanied by a written, that “called on Christian women to imitate the Blessed Virgin, and also wear the veil.”

The Patriarchate speaks of an unacceptable pressure “on the freedom of Christians” to dress “as they see fit.” “Because Our Lady – clarifies the leaders of the Chaldean Church – lived 2 thousand years ago, in a very different society, culture and environment from the present and the real veil is that which cloaks the spirit and morality.”