Trump’s punitive measures are hitting all levels of society. Fr Ryan, a Chaldean clergyman, talks about economic and cultural problems that threaten the future. Emigration is a problem Christians and Muslims share. Christians feel isolated and ask for a prayer for the whole country.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – US economic sanctions against Iran “have caused serious difficulties” to all levels of society. Compared to the recent past, life today “has become very difficult for ordinary people,” said Fr Ryan Issa, a 43-year-old Iranian priest incardinated for the past nine years in the Chaldean Diocese of Tehran.
Born in Urmia, the capital of Western Azerbaijan, in the north-west of the country, the clergyman spoke to AsiaNews about the climate of “tensions and concerns” that fills the daily life of ordinary Iranians.
“The economy plays a fundamental role in our life and society, at every level,” he said. The prices of consumer goods and food “are different from one shop to another”, but the problem is not only economic because it also touches the cultural sphere.
“Education has lost value. Many factories are closed or are stopping production. The salary of a regular worker (in the private or public sector) can only support a family for a week.”
The decision by US President Donald Trump in May 2018 to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached by Barack Obama, has led to rising tensions between Iran and the United States, triggering a very serious economic crisis in the Islamic Republic.
The White House followed this up with the toughest sanctions in history and greater military presence in the region. Iranian oil exports have been drastically reduced, negatively impacting Iran’s population.
The United States recently imposed more sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, after a US drone was shot down in the Persian Gulf, in international waters according to Washington, within its territory, according to Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the US president as “mentally deranged”. The latter lashed out at his Iranian counterpart calling his statement “ignorant and insulting”.
Speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, Rouhani said that “Iran has no interest to increase tension in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including (the) US”.
Within Iran, “The Christian minority is certainly no better off than the Muslim majority,” Fr Ryan explained.
“As far as we are concerned, as Catholics, the main concern is the exodus, which threatens to deprive the country of one of its oldest groups,” he added. The problem of Christians leaving is not new and affects the whole Middle East, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.
“The religious element, the religion as a whole has been weakened. The concern, or rather the greatest aspiration for young people, Christians and others, is to emigrate, find a job and have a normal, dignified life, inside or outside the country.”
The concerns of everyday life and the desire to leave the country lead to a gradual break from one’s own community. “In big cities, like in the capital, we see and meet young Christians only at Christmas and Easter celebrations.”
Iran is home to about 22,000 Catholics (and 500,000 Christians) out of a population of almost 82 million people, mostly Shia (90 per cent), and Sunnis (5 per cent). The various Churches include those that follow the Chaldean, Armenian and Latin rites, plus Europeans and Latin Americans working in the Islamic Republic.
Under the Iranian Constitution (art. 13) “Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are considered the only recognized religious minorities. They may exercise their religious ceremonies within the limits of the (Islamic) law.” Christians have representatives in the Iranian parliament (Majlis).
In addition to a growing desire to escape, Iran’s Christians experience a “sense of isolation and detachment from the rest of the population”.
Fr Ryan notes that the feeling of “Belonging, unfortunately, is felt very little at the formal and ecclesial level. For this reason, we ask all Catholics, especially those who live in the West, to pray for Christians, for the Iranian people as a whole and for our country” at this time of grave difficulty.