BAGHDAD -- The Vatican's ambassador to Iraq, Archbishop Georgio Lingua, has called for action to be taken to help Christians stay in the Middle East, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
Archbishop Lingua was visiting the Kurdish region, where many Iraqi Christians have fled following attacks in Baghdad and other parts of the country. He told RFI that "it is painful for us to see Christians migrating from Iraq toward Europe, as well as what is happening to Christians throughout the region."
Lingua said that "to stop this exodus we should work together to induce Christians to stay in the region by enabling them to have a decent life."
The papal envoy said he is visiting the region for several days to see for himself the conditions in which Christians live in Kurdistan, especially those displaced as a result of violence in other parts of the country.
Kamil Haj Ali, the Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) endowments and religious affairs minister, told RFI that the KRG attaches great importance to Lingua's visit so that "[he] can directly acquaint himself with the interfaith tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Kurdistan."
Ali said the teachings of Islam "hold us as people and a government duty bound to maintain this peaceful coexistence and defend the Christians living in the region."
Endowments and Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman Othman al-Mufti told RFI that Lingua's visit offers an opportunity for the papal envoy to see himself that the region's Christians are treated as equal citizens, and thus convey a truthful view of the situation in Kurdistan to others.
Hundreds of Christian families fled to the Kurdish region from other parts of Iraq in the wake of recent attacks that left dozens of Christians dead.
Iraq's Christians, who once numbered 1.5 million, have frequently been targeted by Islamic militants since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, with churches bombed and priests assassinated.