Amid ongoing concern for Christians in the Middle East, an Iraqi archbishop on Wednesday called for an end to sectarian violence and for dialogue toward “a place where the culture of faith is always and everywhere understood to be a universal blessing, because it is a culture of life.”
Addressing the Group of Twenty’s first-ever forum on religion on Nov. 2, Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Erbil drew on his personal experience, the suffering of Iraqi Christians, and the history of his homeland to drive home the need for “forgiveness and a renunciation of violence.”
The G20 — a group of the world’s major economies — introduced the religious summit ahead of its own conference this year, which takes place on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Warda noted that the “R20” Religion Forum, from Nov. 2–3, is organized by Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement.
The Sunni group is estimated to have more than 90 million members.
Their leader, Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf, met with Pope Francis in 2019 to present a vision for a more peaceful future and greater human fraternity. This includes a Center for Shared Civilizational Values.
The R20 summit, Sheikh Staquf told Indonesian agency Antara, expected to host “no less than 160 international figures” and some 400 participants.
Archbishop Warda thanked Staquf for allowing a place for discussion to flourish and quoted the Muslim sheikh’s words that any Islamic doctrine of enmity was “unreasonable” and a barrier to “living harmoniously and peacefully within the multicultural, multireligious societies of the 21st century.”
In his livestreamed speech, the Catholic leader called for an “honest discussion about the primordial cycle of hatred, supremacy, and violence that has plagued humanity since before the dawn of history.”
The archbishop echoed the words of Pope Francis in Iraq to Christians during his visit in 2021, stressing that love was real strength. He stressed the need to be able to forgive — without forgetting — and “a renewed encounter with our Muslim neighbors based in the reality of our experience.”
Quoting the words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti, the Iraqi archbishop noted: “Pain and conflict transform us. We no longer have use for empty diplomacy, dissimulation, double-speak, hidden agendas, and good manners that mask reality. Those who were fierce enemies have to speak from the stark and clear truth.”
Such a discussion may be difficult, Warda said, but ultimately “necessary if we are to survive as peoples of faith, as brothers and sisters in mutual dignity, in a world that is growing ever more hostile to the moral and spiritual values that we hold dear.”
In fact, the archbishop also stressed, the roots of some of the “unique horrors of the last decades” were not only religious but also geopolitical.
The archbishop warned: “We live in a tipping point of history, one in which an aggressive secularism seeks to drive all elements of faith into oblivion, and with it all the basic principles of the sacred nature of life, of family, of our obligation to our Creator.”
“And while I am personally convinced that the world of faith will ultimately prevail,” Warda added, “it cannot do so when the constant face of our world of faith is one of violence against the other, or even against ourselves.”
He said: “We beg those who will be assembled in the forthcoming G20 summit, those who continue to have access in shaping policy for the world, to daily remember that your global planning decisions have life or death consequences for the people living on the outside.”