Your Holiness, Your Eminences,
Dear sisters and brothers,

I am glad and honoured to be with you this morning and share these moments of reflection, exchange and fellowship. I would like first to welcome you all and to thank you for having responded positively to WCC's and MECC's invitation.

Faith is part of the inner identity of a human being. It touches the whole of the human life. It refers to one’s faith in God bur also defines one’s way of life: relationships with others and the whole world. All religions place human dignity at the heart of their values and call for social solidarity, inducing them to care for one another. The Covid 19 pandemic showed us to what extent we are interdependent, that we all belong to one human family, as God’s equal children. The Covid virus does not choose between faith communities, national identities, colours, genders; it touches equally all humans, without any difference.

Therefore, religious leaders and religious institutions play an important role in the life of the local communities and contribute greatly to justice, peace and social cohesion. This is true for the whole world and particularly for Middle East and Iraq, which is the mean theme of our meetings this week.

Interfaith collaboration to address social cohesion in the region contributes to building bridges of trust between communities and setting the ground for a peaceful and prosperous society. As religious and ethnic leaders, it is our collective responsibility to build trust, promote the spirit of tolerance, and preserve the human rights of our community members.

Since at least 2010, WCC has been actively engaged in different initiatives with the Iraqi government, the United Nations, civil society actors, and Iraqi religious leaders to help protect the country's religious, ethnic, and social diversity. That engagement increased since mid-2014, with a special focus on the Ninewa Plains and Western Ninewa, where the population was more vulnerable due to the "Islamic State" invasion and the "disputed areas" status of the region.

WCC undertook several visits to Iraq, responding to invitations from the local churches and the Council of Heads of Churches of Iraq, stressing the importance of engaging religious leaders from Iraq's faith traditions to promote a shared narrative for peace and reconciliation.

In 2017 more than 40 religious leaders from Iraq gathered in Beirut, Lebanon, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches for three days of constructive interfaith dialogue. The aim was to identify and analyse opportunities and challenges related to cohesion and highlight the role of religious leaders in restoring inclusive multi-religious and multi-cultural communities in Iraq after years of conflict. The consultation provided a safe space for an honest dialogue, sharing of pain, and expressing concerns and fears regarding the future. It was also the first path of a change process towards more inclusive societies.

Based on the recommendations of this consultation, the WCC, together with its member churches, partner organizations and you, religious leaders, continued working on implementing as much as possible some of the programmes and activities you have identified. The discipline we worked in was education.

Together with the active participation of all stakeholders, religious and ethnic representatives, government authorities, the WCC addressed the following:

  • Removing from the educational curricula all forms of extremist ideologies against any religious or ethnic group and removing any content that may incite animosity, discrimination, or marginalization.
  • Adding, in a just and authentic manner, by the communities themselves, missing information and sections related to the representation of the Iraqi components in the curricula.
  • Training teachers on inclusive pedagogy, focusing on human dignity and shared civic rights as the basis for education for all.
  • Removing any content that lacks faithfulness, and focusing on equal citizenship, which leads to promoting diversity. 

We are aware that the road of this common journey is long and complex. We are conscious of the challenges and obstacles you face in your daily lives and in your work for peace. However, we have hope. We believe that through consistent efforts, continuous collaboration, and a strong commitment and goodwill, peace will be achieved, and justice will prevail for all. Living in peace, security and fulfilment is a collective reality; it can only be reached for all of us together, not through individual plans and objectives.

Iraq, the cradle of civilizations, needs today more than ever a national plan where religious leaders play a crucial role. A plan that considers the following:

  1. Recognize and support transitional justice efforts. Both retributive and restorative justice measures are needed.
  2. Rebuild social capital and trust with a long-term and multi-actor perspective.
  3. Spiritual and ethical engagement of the religious leaders of all ethnic and religious groups.
  4.  Active role of the state that must make itself present, representative of and responsible for all components of society, securing the application of the rule of law.
  5. Counter hate and dehumanizing narratives of the other—exclusionary constructions of the collective national identity and dehumanization of social groups in the public sphere.

We are living communities of faith. Our dialogue is a dialogue of life, a dialogue of humanity. Together we can build bridges so that our paths intersect and meet so that our hearts celebrate our fellowship so that this world is a better place to live in peace, harmony and dignity.

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca
Acting General Secretary
World Council of Churches