Baghdad, Apr. 30 ( - The Church leaders of Iraq have issued a public statement expressing their concerns for the future of their country.

The patriarchs and bishops of the country's Christian churches, calling attention to the rich history of Iraqi civilization, urge their people to work toward the restoration of "freedom, justice, and respect" among the country's peoples. The Church leaders, citing the examples of Hammurabi and Abraham, note that Iraqi history is marked by advances in respect for human rights, and should honor that heritage in meeting their new challenges today.

The Christian leaders note that they are speaking as "Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians, Greeks, and Latins"-- a reference to the many different Christian denominations that are active in the country. They also insist that Christians and Muslims can continue the "respectful and reciprocal coexistence" that has marked the country's history.

The full text of the Iraqi prelates' statement-- which was originally released on April 29, and made public by the Vatican press office the next day-- follows:

At this moment when Iraq is turning a page and is beginning a new chapter in her millenary life, we, the patriarchs and bishops of the Christian Churches in Iraq, driven also by pressure from our faithful, wish to express our aspirations relative to the future of this country, in the hope that the Iraqi people, which has had a long history marked by defeats and successes, will be able, without religious or ethnic distinction, to live in freedom, justice, and respect for inter-religious and multiethnic coexistence.

When Hammurabi sculpted his Code on the stone of this land, law became the basis of the development of civilization.

When Abraham looked at the heavens above Ur, they opened up to him and, by this revelation, Abraham became the father of a multitude of peoples.

When Christianity and Islam met, their respective "holy ones" began the two religions in respectful and reciprocal coexistence.

In addition, by virtue of our original right of belonging to the most ancient peoples of this land, we claim for ourselves and for all those who live in it today, whether a majority or minority, united by a long history of coexistence, the full right to live in a state of law, in peace, freedom, justice, and equality, according to the Human Rights Charter. Consequently, we-- Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians, Greeks and Latins-- forming together one Christian community, ask that the new Iraqi constitution:

1)  recognize our religious, cultural, social and political rights;
2) envision a legal statute in which each person will be considered according to their capacities, without discrimination, so that each may have the right to actively participate in the government and the service of this country,
3) consider Christians as Iraqi citizens with full rights;
4) guarantee the right to profess our faith according to our ancient traditions and our religious law, the right to educate our children according to Christian principles, the right to freely assemble, to build our places of worship, and our cultural and social centers according to our needs.

And lastly, we make this appeal before everyone, the Iraqi people, rich in ethnicities and religions, the political and religious authorities, as well as to everyone who has the good of the country at heart, and to the leaders of the international community."