The international community should take real action to help Iraq's Christians stay in their country, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Friday during a one-day visit in Irbil.
"Christians should remain in Iraq because their history is rooted in Iraq, where they have lived alongside Muslims and built common civilizations," Rai said, after landing in the Kurdish capital heading a joint Lebanese-Italian church delegation to visit Christian refugees who escaped persecution by ISIS.
"Their future is here too and they cannot let go of this land." The delegation, which included Archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola, was received at the airport by Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako, Kurdish Interior Minister Karim Sinjari as well as other political and religious officials.
"Our main demand they return to their homes and lands in dignity. We have trusted the international coalition in that," Rai added.
"But unfortunately the terrorist groups are still growing and advancing. "Here we should ask: Where are they receiving this strength from? Why is [ISIS] being treated as a state and not a terrorist group?" Rai said.
"We don't speak the language of killing, but that of rights. The international community should not remain silent toward the violation of the rights of a whole people." The delegation then toured the refugee population, as well as a number of clinics and social centers.
Rai also met with representatives of the Lebanese community in Iraq, who updated him on the latest developments and the security situation in the country.
Sako, who thanked Rai and the delegation for the visit, said Lebanon should elect a president as soon as possible because the current "vacuum directly affects the Christians in Iraq and the Middle East."
Scola, in turn, expressed solidarity with the Iraqi people and thanked Rai for his invitation, speaking of the need for accurate and objective coverage of the events going on in the region.
The Kurdish minister welcomed the delegation and underlined the importance of Muslim-Christian coexistence in Iraq.
"Our Christian brethren are part of Iraq's culture and one of its special features," he said, calling on the church to "encourage them to stay in Iraq because their emigration would be a great setback and a heavy loss for the country and its people.