Five patriarchs of Middle Eastern Churches visited north Iraq yesterday to support the Assyrian Christians, who have been driven from their homes and villages by the Islamic State (ISIS) and whose religious institutions have been destroyed and occupied.
The Patriarchs were:
- Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros AlRai
- Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church Ignatius Ephrem II Karim
- Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Rafael Sako
- Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III Lahham
- Syriac Catholic Patriarch Mor Ignatius Joseph III Youna
The delegation was flown to Arbel in a private jet donated by the former president of the Industrialists Association, Jacques Sarraf.
Accompanying the Patriarchs were Harith Shihab, member of the Islamic-Christian dialogue committee, Father Paul Karam, head of Caritas Lebanon, Monsignor Joseph AlBawary, Director of the Catholic Information Center and Father Abdo Abu Kasem.
The delegation was received at the airport by the KRG Minister of Interior Karim Sinjari, the Governor of Arbel Nozad Hadi and a number of officials.
The Delegation’s first stop was the city of Ankawa, where 70,000 Assyrians have sought refuge, swelling the city’s population to 100,000. The next stop was the headquarters of the Chaldean Diocese and Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese in Arbel, where the delegation was briefed on the situation of the refugees.
The mission of the Patriarchs is to assess the state of the refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain and to formulate a plan to deliver aid, as well as pressure Western and Middle Eastern governments to commit to returning the refugees to their homes.
The Patriarchs offered prayers as they visited the refugees and together recited the Lord’s Prayer in Syriac (Aramaic), the language of Jesus Christ.
Patriarch AlRai said the Assyrian Christian refugees are the indigenous people and he does not call them a minority, because this is their land and they must return to it.
Absent from the delegation was the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, His Holiness Dinkha IV, who could not travel because of ill health.