Vatican City, Oct 17, 2016 / 01:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Alberto Ortega, the Pope's Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, has said that in the midst of a drawn-out humanitarian crisis and ongoing feelings of mistrust and betrayal, Christians can be a sign of reconciliation where political efforts continue to fall short.
In order for current conflicts destroying much of the Middle East to come to an end, “there is first of all the political will,” Archbishop Ortega told CNA in an interview.
“If the international community, if they really want to make peace, to promote peace, they can engage more intensively and to reach the agreements necessary to reach peace,” he said, stressing that dialogue is also important.
However, in order for dialogue to be effective, one must “put aside personal interests or the interests of a group or of a country, (and) put in the center the attention to the people, to every single person, because behind all these numbers…there are concrete people with a face and a family.”
Christians, he said, can play a “very important role,” especially in the context of the Holy Year of Mercy.
“Even if as a number they are a minority, they can play a very important role as wielders of reconciliation, of peace, of unity, as they have done in the past,” he said, adding that “they have always been a factor of stability and a factor of development in the country.”
Archbishop Ortega was present in Rome for a Sept. 29 symposium on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
Marking the fifth such meeting, the symposium gathered 80 representatives from various Catholic charitable organizations in the Middle East, as well as those in religious congregations who work in crisis areas.
The archbishop provided participants with an update on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and how the Church has responded.
In his comments to CNA, he said spoke not only about the concrete material needs of the Iraqi people, but also how each person can work to overcome the general attitude of mistrust that has developed in the region, explaining that peace can and must be achieved at both a political and individual level.
Please read below for the full interview with Archbishop Ortega:
Can you tell us from your perspective on the ground, what are the most immediate needs of the people?
I think there are many needs from the humanitarian point of view. For example in Iraq there are 10 million who are in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s a lot, that’s nearly one-third of the population. There are 3.5 million internally displaced, and there are also many needs from other points of view, especially the need for reconciliation. There is lack of unity, many tensions among different groups, so the biggest need for me is the need of reconciliation and that all groups can build society together, that they agree, at least on the principals, to work together. If they work together it’s easier also to overcome terrorism and extremism. But it’s so important that they work together and look for the common good of the population.
Trust has been a big issue. Do you think people in this area will eventually be able to trust one another again?
I think this is a big challenge but it is the only way. In this aspect, in this Year of Mercy, mercy is the solution to the problems. Because after so many years of tensions, of conflicts, you need to move forward and the only way is to forgive. At the end, mercy is the only way to reconciliation. In this aspect the Christians can play a very important role. Even if as a number they are a minority, they can play a very important role as wielders of reconciliation, of peace, of unity, as they have done in the past. They have always been a factor of stability and a factor of development in the country.
Are people on the ground hopeful to be able to return home soon?
There are different kinds of people. Some of them are very tired after so many years, because the last problem with the Islamic State is just the last development of many other problems. Since many years they are suffering the consequences of one war after another, so some of them are tired and they are looking forward to going abroad. Other people, they are very attached to their roots and they want to remain there. We encourage, especially the Christians, we encourage them to remain there because we think that their presence is so important for the country. Not just for the Church, that is so important, but also for society because they can play a very important role. And to encourage them to remain I always tell them that they have a very special mission that no one can play in their place. They have a special mission of being Christians in the Holy Land, of being Christians in a context that is difficult but is very necessary.
In his speech to conference participants the Pope spoke about the need for peace at both a political and individual level. What is needed at a political level to have peace, and what can each person do?
I think that at a political level there is first of all the political will. Because if the international community, if they really want to make peace, to promote peace, they can engage more intensively and to reach the agreements necessary to reach peace. But also dialogue is so important, and to put aside personal interests or the interests of a group or of a country, to put in the center the attention to the people, to every single person, because behind all these numbers or big themes of people suffering, there are concrete people with a face and a family, and every one of them is important. So I think if we put them in the main point of reference, it’s not so difficult to reach an agreement to obtain peace and stability.
From your perspective as someone living in the midst of the situation, is there a specific message you have on behalf of the Christians in Iraq?
It’s important to work together. And to transmit this necessity of continuing to help these people, to assist these people, with prayers and spiritual assistance, but also with concrete assistance…to contact authorities, to engage more in promoting peace and development. Also because it’s the best way to avoid the problem of migration. Instead of trying to cover the emergency here (in Europe), to try to solve the problems at the root so that people don’t have to leave their countries.