"Extremist political Islam is growing in the Middle East," prompting Christians to flee and causing death and upheaval among Christians and moderate Muslims alike, said the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad said moderate Muslims must be more
courageous in defending a pluralistic Middle East and the region's
Catholics should consider writing a document that explains to Muslims
the Christian faith and the importance of religious freedom using
terminology familiar to Muslims.
The patriarch spoke Dec. 14 in Rome at an international conference on
"Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives."
The conference was sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project of the
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown
University in Washington.
More than 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, "we don't
have security yet," the patriarch told conference participants. "In 2013
alone, 6,200 persons were killed. There are daily attacks, explosions,
kidnappings and murders."
"In 1987, the community of Iraqi Christians included over 1.2 million
adherents," he said. "Today less than half remain. Even more troubling
is that the numbers continue dropping."
In Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, he said,
fighting between different Muslim groups has created openings for
extremist Muslims to exercise increasing influence, threatening even
simple tolerance of Christians and making full religious freedom a
distant dream for many.
The extremists, he said, "are afraid that Muslims will lose their
morals through modernism and globalization exported by the West. They
reject a secular state or a multicultural society and other Western
What is needed, he said, are efforts on the local, national and
international levels to help all the peoples of the Middle East
understand how their cultures benefited from a mix of ethnic groups and
religions, especially Christianity and Islam, and that protecting the
conscience rights of one group strengthens the protection of all.
"We earnestly hope that it is still possible to achieve a harmonious
way of living together -- perhaps to establish a criterion of
citizenship that enables all to be integrated, regardless of religion or
ethnicity, and based on the idea that all people are created equal," he
"We need a way to help Muslims reconcile Islam with citizenship based
on full equality," and not on special categories for minorities,
including Christians, he said.
Patriarch Sako suggested that the Catholic Church "produce a new
document addressed only to Muslims. It is important to clarify with them
both our fears and our hopes. Among other things, this document should
explain -- in language compatible with Islam -- the magnificent doctrine
of religious freedom as it is articulated in 'Dignitatis Humanae,' the
declaration on religious freedom from the Second Vatican Council."
In addition, he said, "the time has come for moderate Muslims, who
constitute the majority of Muslims, to start promoting civil harmony and
religious freedom in their societies. They must prove to the world,
through deeds, that Islam is not a religion of terror and killing of