Archbishop: Suffering Iraqis Want to Live
BY Jim Cosgrove
June 29-July 5, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/29/03 at 2:00 PM
VATICAN CITY — On his recent visit to Iraq, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes realized what citizens want is stability for the sake of their future.
The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who is responsible for coordinating the work of the Church's charitable institutions, visited the postwar country from May 28 to June 2 as a papal envoy. In the following interview with Zenit, a Rome-based news service, he talks about the enormous reconstruction work facing Iraq.
What is it like right now in Iraq?
The road to normality still seems very long. People want light, water, food. At this time, they do not see the political problems — they must think of living.
The first thing to ensure, the first conquest, then, is stability, indispensable to address with the necessary serenity the problem of the political order and to avoid the risks of a theocratic drift or of a confrontation between Christians and Muslims that, inevitably, will not be able to be resolved without great harm to the former.
The conclusion I came to is that the military administration will not be able to be brief — in fact, quite the opposite.
Why did you go to Iraq?
Pope John Paul II himself wanted the mission; he asked me to go down there to assess the situation personally.
In Baghdad and in other Iraqi cities I met with Christian communities — in keeping with the intention to cooperate loyally in the reconstruction of the country — and with representatives of the allied forces and those of the United Nations.
Are you worried?
Let us say that there is no lack of reasons for concern. I fear the model of democracy the United States would like to export is not, in fact, applicable there.
America is a great democracy formed by parties and based on numbers: one man, one vote. Unfortunately, it does not seem to me to be transferable to a nation with different cultural dynamics, such as Iraq.
I think the Americans will understand that it is an inapplicable model, that instead it is necessary to think of something that takes into account Iraq's history.
But aren't the Americans aware of this?
Those that I met were in agreement with this judgment. And for this reason, it seems to me, they also foresee staying in Iraq a long time.
Hence, it will not be something brief. The future state structure will not be seen tomorrow. And there is also a risk in this, because the longer that which the Iraqis see as a military occupation lasts the more the little favor on which it has been able to count on until now is weakened.
And how do the Christians live in this situation?
There are some positive signs. At Mosul, in the north of the country, I saw, for example, that the present city administration, which was installed after the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein, also includes the presence of some representatives of the Christian religion.
Thus, as I was also able to see in many areas, there is great appreciation for the Pope and the action he undertook.
But in a nation where Muslims, 60% of whom are Shiites, constitute the great majority of the population, while Christians represent only 4%, the risk of a drift to theocracy is very strong.
In the whole of the Middle East the emigration of Christians represents a very great problem.
Were there signs there might also be a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq?
No, I did not have this impression. Rather, on the contrary, it seems to me the intention is to make themselves available to the country to offer their own contributions to the human, civil and material reconstruction.
Very beautiful, in this respect, is the document the Iraqi bishops published last April 29, in which, precisely, they forcefully underline this intention and this willingness. However — and here we refer to what was said earlier — it is necessary to ensure specific guarantees for the minorities.
How can Iraq be helped in this difficult situation?
The first thing, absolutely indispensable at present, is to guarantee stability and security. The primary needs of the people are still the supply of water, of food and of electricity. And then there is the problem of security, which continues to be critical.
Just think that some time ago an entire convoy of aid that left Amman destined for Baghdad was robbed of everything in the middle of the desert and, fortunately, the robbers were kind enough to give the drivers the trucks to be able to make the return journey to Jordan.
In these conditions, the activities of the humanitarian agencies are not possible. Because of this, I repeat, stability and security must first be ensured; this will be better for everything and for everyone.
What is your judgment today on the war?
War does not create peace and, therefore, cannot be considered the means to destroy the evil that is in man's heart.
I would like to add, moreover, that that which was said to justify this conflict was revealed not to be true, and now I wonder why an alternative was not tried all the way to the end.
Fortunately the war was brief and did not cause widespread destruction. If we think of what could have happened, and what many feared, one cannot but rejoice.
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