On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul. Some 120,000 Christians had to flee overnight. Many of them found refuge around the Kurdish city of Erbil. For the following three years, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, was one of the pillars in the maintenance and support of the community. Early 2016 Iraqi forces and their allies were able to recover the territories and tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to the ruins of their home cities. Others decided to stay in Erbil or emigrate out of the country. The ACN Foundation together with the local churches significantly supports the reconstruction. Five years after the invasion of the Nineveh Plain, ACN interviews Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda – an eye-witness of all these events – about the consequences for Christians in Iraq but also for the entire Middle East and for Western countries.

The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano.

It has been five years of Calvary. Looking back what would be the lesson you have taken?
When a people have nothing left to lose, in some sense it is very liberating, and from this position of clarity and new-found courage I can speak on behalf of my people and tell you the truth. But I would like to remark that we are a people who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years confronting an existential struggle, our final struggle in Iraq. The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, sharing of sorrows. Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.

Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil.

Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil.

So in fact, the ISIS invasion was just the “tip of the iceberg”?

With each successive cycle the number of Christians falls away, till today we are at the point of extinction. Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise?  –That is what the media will say. Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922.

But during these 1,400 years of Christian oppression, were there periods of Muslim tolerance as an alternative to violence and persecution?

One cannot deny the existence of times of relative tolerance. Under al Rashid, the House of Wisdom, the great library, was founded in Baghdad. There was a time of relative prosperity while Christian and Jewish scholarship was valued, and a flowering of science, mathematics and medicine was made possible by Nestorian Christian scholars who translated Greek texts, already ancient in the ninth century. Our Christian ancestors shared with Muslim Arabs a deep tradition of thought and philosophy and engaged with them in respectful dialogue from the 8th century onwards. The Arab Golden Age, as historian Philip Jenkins has noted, was built on Chaldean and Syriac scholarship. Christian scholarship. The imposition of Shari’a law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the “Golden Age” of Arab culture. A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and which could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.

"The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians".

“The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians”.

 So, would you say that peaceful coexistence is possible and tolerance is the key to the development of peoples?

Exactly. But these moments of toleration have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree. It is not, and has never, ever, been a question of equality.  Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit.  Yes; the root of all of this is the teachings of Jihad, the justification for acts of violence.

Iraqi Christians are going back to their villages again. Is the situation now improving? How is life for the Christians and other minorities?

There are still extremist groups, growing in number, asserting that killing Christians and Yazidis helps spread Islam. By strictly adhering to Koranic teaching they prescribe Dhimmi status (second class citizenship) to minorities, allowing confiscation of property and enforcement of jizya Islamic tax. But it is not just this. If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries. By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens, we live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.

In Western countries you stand equal under the law. This basic principle of European and American life is a foundation of Christian civic order, in which we are all children under a loving God, created in His image and likeness, which gives us all dignity, and urges on us mutual respect. Civic security grows out of a worldview that values every individual human not for their position or role, but simply because they are human. This view has been the great gift of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rebuilding civil society means rebuilding it for everybody. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a chance to thrive.

The truth is, there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed any- where where Islam brings itself to bare upon a host nation.

 

Some voices said that the brutality and the violence of ISIS have changed the Islamic world, too. What do you think?

Clearly, ISIS shocked the conscience of the world, and has shocked the conscience of the Islamic-majority world as well. The question now is whether or not Islam will continue on a political trajectory, in which Shari’a is the basis for civil law and nearly every aspect of life is circumscribed by religion, or whether a more civil, tolerant movement will develop.

The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate. This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world.  And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.

How do you think that the West will react to this?

This is a crucial question and the religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, “we are all Christians”? And yes I do say, the “next wave of violence”, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated.  One group is taught that they are superior and legally entitled to treat others as inferior human beings on the sole basis of their faith and religious practices. This teaching inevitably leads to violence against any “inferiors” who refuse to change their faith. And there you have it – the history of Christians in the Middle East for the last 1,400 years.

On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul.

On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul.

But what would be the solution? How are we to build a better future?

This change must come about as the conscious work of the Muslim world itself. We see the small beginnings, perhaps, of this recognition in Egypt, in Jordan, in Asia, even in Saudi Arabia. Certainly much remains to be seen as to whether there is actual sincerity in this.

Has Christianity in Middle East a prophetic mission?

Mine is a missionary role: to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to show the truth of Christ and to provide a living example to our Muslim neighbours of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness which we Christians of Iraq can share, and share from a position of historically unique moral clarity. We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them. And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing.  Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.

And what about our Western secular society, according to your opinion, what would our task be?

We ask that you consider our situation truthfully, as it actually exists, and not in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering, and thereby robs us even of the dignity of our continued faith. The heart of the struggle is to understand the nature of the battle. You will have to ask yourselves, how long can a moderate and decent society survive without the influence of Christian institutions? How long can the tradition exist after the faith has died?  What will flow into the vacuum?  The role Christian communities play, or have played, in Islamic societies has been overlooked. It is an important part of the formation of civil society in most of the world. It needs highlighting because the situation in Iraq has been woefully misread by Western decision makers. There is no reason to believe they will not misread the same signs and portents in their own countries. You think you are a long way from the chaos of Iraq? Let me assure you; it is only six hours away.

Speaking about decision makers, what would be the role of politicians?
We ask them to support efforts to ensure equal treatment for all minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. We pray that policy makers can find in themselves the humility to recognize that their theories, which over the past decades have become our horrific reality, have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation. And in these mistaken policies, designed in comfort and safety from afar, argued over in the media as partisan intellectual talking points, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died.  An entire country has been ripped apart and left to the jackals. This horror all began with policy, and we beg those of you who continue to have access in shaping policy for your country, to daily remember that your policy assessments and those of your allies have life or death consequences. Please, walk humbly and make sure that you truly understand the people on whom you are passing sentence. Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss in the comfort of a peaceful country. But for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.

The most painful question: Are we facing the end of Christianity in Iraq?

It could be. We acknowledge this. Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction. In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million: six percent of Iraq’s population. Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left.  Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.

In the end, the entire world faces a moment of truth. Will a peaceful and innocent people be allowed to be persecuted and eliminated because of their faith? And, for the sake of not wanting to speak the truth to the persecutors, will the world be complicit in our elimination? The world should understand, in our path to extinction we will not go quietly any further. From this point we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to say:  how did this happen? We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths. Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop.  We Christians of Iraq, who have faced 1,400 years of persecution, violence and genocide, are prepared to speak out and bear witness to our oppressors and to the world, whatever the consequence.

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan has been the prime mover behind the establishment of two major new Christian institutions in the region. In 2016, the Catholic University in Erbil opened its doors and late summer will see the formal opening of the new Catholic hospital in Erbil, the Maryamana, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. For more than three years, the Archdiocese of Erbil hosted more than 120,000 Christians who fled the 2014 onslaught of ISIS on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. While some 40,000 faithful have since returned to their homes, many thousands have made Kurdistan their permanent home. The university the only Catholic university in Iraq – and hospital will be a significant boost for the re-established Christian communities on the Nineveh Plains as well as for the local Christian community in Kurdistan. The archbishop spoke with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the significance of both projects.

 What is your vision for the new Catholic hospital?

The overall goal of the hospital is to bring effective and affordable healthcare to a war-torn region that is totally lacking in resources and modern equipment. This is partly due to decades of continuous conflict but also because of the inactivity of the government. It is likely that in the next decade there will be even more refugees, IDPs, and older persons in need. We will be in a position to support the neediest patients and offer them discounts of up to 60 percent.

Bashar Matti Warda, archbishop of Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq.

Bashar Matti Warda, archbishop of Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq.

 The hospital must also be important, especially for Christians, in generating jobs in a region with high unemployment?

 The provision of jobs will show Christians that we are building a future for them in Erbil.

Christians and other minorities are often denied jobs and are overlooked for promotion due to a prejudiced political system. There are few if any politicians willing to stand up for the rights of Christians. This has a direct correlation to people leaving the country. Along with the university, Maryamana is a crucial and pivotal project that aims to keep Christians in Erbil and on the Nineveh Plains. Both institutions demonstrate that Christians matter and that they are an integral part of Iraqi society.

Will the hospital serve only Christians?

 The hospital’s mission aligns with that of the Church. Any person, regardless of religion or race, can receive treatment at Maryamana Hospital; priority will be given to those whose medical needs are most urgent. It is well known that Muslims trust Christian healthcare professionals; hopefully, Maryamana will also facilitate our communal reconciliation efforts by addressing the health-care needs of other faiths.

What medical services will the hospital provide?

The hospital will have 70 beds and seven operating rooms, all of which we expect to be in constant use. The hospital will be able to serve 300 outpatients per day and will offer most medical services. In addition to the care of pregnant women and pre-term infants, there will be clinics for a full range of specialties. The hospital will have up-to-date laboratory equipment and be able to administer the full spectrum of diagnostic tests (e.g., MRIs, CT scans); there are two emergency departments, as well as a pharmacy. In some three years, we hope the Maryamana can become a teaching hospital. Planning for an oncology center at the hospital is also underway.

What is the mission of the Catholic University in Erbil?

The Catholic University in Erbil was founded to secure educational and professional opportunities for our young people so that they will be encouraged to stay in Iraq and become the future leaders of the Christian community here and elsewhere in the country. Eventually, when our young people are getting good jobs in a majority Muslim country, they will find hope and turn to the university as their conduit to succeed and thrive in their careers in Kurdistan and Iraq. We hope that the university will inspire religious minorities and prove to them that they have viable and bright futures here. We are trying to establish Erbil as a long-term home for the Christian community—and people choose to stay when there are jobs and when there is a strong infrastructure of services and institutions. The school will give the Christian community a major sense of worth and belonging.

In Kurdistan, Iraq, a new Catholic hospital and university bring hope to an embattled Christian community.

In Kurdistan, Iraq, a new Catholic hospital and university bring hope to an embattled Christian community.

How many students does the university have now and what is your goal?

Currently 108 students are enrolled, including 10 Muslims; academic degrees are awarded in Accounting, English, International Relations, Information Technology and Computer Science Our target for the academic year 2022-2023 is to have 825 students enrolled – 615 Iraqi Christians, 125 Muslims and 85 Yazidis, from Kurdistan, Mosul, the Nineveh Plains, Duhok, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Basra. To attract students, we are aiming to build and establish additional departments in core academic disciplines: Economics, Engineering, Health & Medical Sciences, and Education.

We want to establish the university as an international anchor project to keep Christianity in Iraq. We are building relationships with the relevant ministries here and working internationally with many universities to establish the brand of the Catholic University in Erbil. Iraqi Christians and other minorities are drawn to the university because the teaching is done in English and because of its location in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, an environment that promises safety and care. The new Maryamana Hospital is also located in Ankawa.

What are your main concerns regarding these initiatives, the hospital and university?
The key challenges were getting both institutions built and operational. With the hospital, the priority is to repay our loans, but we know that the hospital will be fully utilized and become profitable. The demand is there. In Kurdistan, there are more than a million refugees and hundreds of thousands of elderly people; clinics in Erbil and Duhok serve more than 1,000 patients each month; as many as 2,000 chronically ill patients rely on our local clinic, St. Joseph’s, for very expensive drugs.

The university, still young, requires more funding, since most of our students – many of them from Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains – are attending on full scholarships. We need to expand academically, since the number of departments correlates with the number of applicants. It is difficult to recruit native English speakers as teachers, as consulates say that Kurdistan is unsafe. We can only attract people through word of mouth and testimonials from visitors, but I believe that we will succeed. Currently, 14 of our local young people are earning Master’s degrees in the US, the UK, Italy and Australia. Upon their return home, they will play key roles at both the university and the hospital. I thank all our benefactors with all my heart and prayers; they are doing a magnificent job for all of us here. God bless them all.

For the past two years, ACN has supported the Catholic University in Erbil and the Maryamana Hospital with funding for scholarships and for the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment. From 2014 through 2017, ACN sponsored projects totaling more than $40M in support of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil as it provided food, medical care, housing and education for the IDPs who had fled the Nineveh Plains after ISIS captured the region.

Exactly 2 years ago, on 10 July 2017 the Iraqi government declared the defeat of Daesh (ISIS). The liberation of Mosul took place three years after the city had been subjected to strict sharia law, including forced conversions, mass executions and a resurgence of slavery.

When the city was liberated, “no one believed that the Christians would return to Mosul”, explains Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN.

Father Kloo certainly decided to return. Currently, in fact, he is the only priest in Mosul. He feels that it is his mission to “serve beneath the Cross” and at the same time “maintain and salvage the historical legacy of the Christian people here.” A legacy that includes Christian churches dating back over 1200 years. As part of this same mission he is rebuilding the Church of the Annunciation, which will be the first Christian church to be restored in Mosul.

As he explains to ACN, no more than 30 or 40 Christians have so far returned to Mosul. But there is a much larger community of “itinerant” or rather commuting Christians. For example there are approximately 1000 Christian students who travel daily to the University of Mosul from the surrounding smaller towns and villages. Added to these are a few hundred Christian workers, most of whom are working for the government, repairing the water and electricity supply networks, which are still in a woeful state. Father Kloo is still hoping that some of these Christians will eventually return to Mosul.

Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo.

Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo.

In 2003 the Christian community in Mosul numbered around 35,000 faithful. In the 11 years that followed the beginning of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein their number fell tragically, and the abduction and murder of Christians became an almost daily occurrence. Many of the churches had been closed down even before the invasion by IS, because many Christians had already left Mosul, following the murders in 2008 of the Chaldean Catholic Bishop Raho and Father Ragheed. By 2014 only around 15,000 Christians were still left, belonging to various different communities, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and some Armenian Christian families. With the arrival of the jihadists, the bells that had still sounded in Mosul for almost 2000 years now fell silent. Thousands of Christians fled the city immediately. Those who did not were either forcibly converted or else executed.

Today the city of Mosul, although almost devoid of Christians for the time being, continues to be the “nominal” seat of two important bishoprics in Iraq. Both these dioceses have been reinforced in recent months with the appointment of new bishops – in January with Najeeb Michaeel Moussa as Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul, and in June with coadjutor bishop Nizar Semaan, to support Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul.

Later, Father Kloo hopes to be able to build a complex with accommodation for university students and also for people in need. But the most urgent thing to him is to build a school, since almost the entire million or so inhabitants of Mosul are now Muslims and there are no Christian schools available in the city. Clearly, this is a decisive factor if any families are to consider returning.

Father Kloo is hoping that the Church of the Annunciation will be finished in three months time. And it is a still greater hope for him that this will signify a rebirth of Christianity in this historic city. “People are still afraid”, he says. “However, when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure … And many people will return.”

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Niveveh Plains in the summer of 2014 the pontifical foundation ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.  ACN donors gave €42.622.212 in aid to Iraq from 2014 until Mai 2019.

As part of its reconstruction efforts in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has begun work to restore the homes of 41 Christian families in the town of Bartella. Approximately 220 additional people will benefit from this project, the latest in ACN’s program, which has already helped renovate more than 2000 houses in the region.

Prior to Daesh’s invasion in 2014, Bartella was a town of 3,500 Christian families (i.e., ca. 17,500 people, including around 12,300 Syriac Orthodox and 5,200 Syriac Catholics). When residents returned after the liberation of the town in 2016, their churches were desecrated, with the black flag of Daesh draped on church walls, and their homes had been burned, looted, and damaged in an attempt to prevent Christians from ever being able to return. Other homes were destroyed by airstrikes during the liberation.

A ceremony to mark the beginning of this work was held on 5 June 2019, beginning with Gospel readings and prayers chanted in Syriac, a neo-Aramaic dialect.  Fr Benham Lallo, representing the parish priest Fr Benham Benoka, who could not make it to the event, led the proceedings and interpreted for Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East section head. The latter, in a message to the families, compared their mission to that of families in the Old Testament, who had to rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction. He also asked them to pray for ACN’s benefactors. The olive trees were then blessed and distributed to each family, symbolizing the hope that peace will return to the region, after many years of war – that these trees, planted in the gardens of these families, will bear fruit.

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Niveveh Plains in the summer of 2014 the pontifical foundation ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.  ACN donors gave €42.622.212 in aid to Iraq from 2014 until Mai 2019.

BAGHDEDA (QARAQOSH), Iraq – On 7 June 2019, Mgr Nizar Semaan, who most recently served in the UK, was ordained Coadjutor Archbishop for the Syriac Catholic Church. He will serve alongside Mgr Petros Mouche and have jurisdiction over Mosul, Kirkuk, and Kurdistan. He was ordained in his hometown of Baghdeda, a mostly Christian town of 25,000. The largest city in his Archdiocese will be Mosul, the city where ISIS declared its caliphate in 2014.

The ceremony was held at the Church of the Immaculate in Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), one of Iraq’s largest churches. Although some structural work has been done with a grant of 100,000 EUR from Aid to the Church in Need, the church is still visibly burnt and damaged, a reminder of the so called Islamic State’s two-year occupation of the town. The previously whitewashed ceiling remains blackened, and a makeshift lighting system took the place of the church’s damaged chandeliers.

London priest ordained Archbishop in Iraqi hometown for Syriac Catholic Church.

London priest ordained Archbishop in Iraqi hometown for Syriac Catholic Church.

His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Yonan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, celebrated the three-hour mass, which at various points employed Syriac, Arabic, and English. The primate leads the sui iuris Syriac Catholic Church, a continuation of the first-century Church of Antioch, where the Apostle Peter was first primate before moving to Rome. It has been in communion with Rome since 1782 after Metropolitan Michael Jarweh declared himself a Catholic. The primary liturgical language is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

At times wearing a white veil, Mgr Semaan thanked those in attendance and described how the Patriarch had called him at 8.00 AM on a Saturday with the proposal, giving him ten days to think about it.  Mgr Semaan expressed his hopes for building a better city, but the ordination was bittersweet. Several women from his family wore black clothes and black veils to mark the recent death of Mgr Semaan’s father.

“It is God’s will, and I accept it as it is,” he said, speaking to ACN after the mass. “I will do my best, as the Cardinal says, to realize the will of God in my service. That is the only thing I am going to do.” He asked for well-wishers to “continue praying, and I promise to work hand-by-hand with them together for the good of this city and the diocese.”

The ceremony was held at the Church of the Immaculate in Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), one of Iraq's largest churches.

The ceremony was held at the Church of the Immaculate in Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), one of Iraq’s largest churches.

In attendance were around 600 mostly Syriac Catholic worshippers, including a choir of 30, and representatives of several religious orders, as well as a few Chaldean and Orthodox bishops. There were, in addition, several civil and military officials. The event was protected by the Nineveh Protection Unit, which has successfully maintained the town’s security since its liberation from ISIS in 2016. The road outside was blockaded as a security measure, and during the ceremony, soldiers could be seen patrolling the church roof through its upper windows.

Mgr Semaan was first ordained a priest in Baghdeda in 1991 in the same church, but from 2005 was responsible for the Syriac Catholic faithful in London. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster in London, was unable to attend but passed on a message of support: “I greet all who are present in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Qaraqosh, which bears so movingly the marks of suffering and destruction of recent decades. I write to assure you all of my prayers and those of the Diocese of Westminster, and of all Catholics in England and Wales … He is known and loved by so many here in England.

“We will miss him greatly, for has been in our Church 14 years, winning our respect and affection.”

The leader of the Chaldean Church has called on the Iraqi government to put in place and enforce laws “that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly.” “The absence of serious steps” to protect the rights of minority faiths in the country, said Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako in a statement sent to Aid to the Church in Need, “will push the remaining Christians and minorities to choose emigration.”

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako.

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako.

Christians and minorities “have played a significant role in enriching Iraq’s cultural, social and economic diversity, making valuable contributions to education, health, public administration and social services,” said the Cardinal; without them, Iraq would become “a country with one homogeneous fabric [that] could be isolated from the world and [which] may generate a kind of radicalism, [and] ethnic and sectarian fanaticism.”

Patriarch Sako listed a number of factors that are pushing Christians and other minorities toward leaving the country. These include the ongoing “fragility of the security situation” and Iraq’s “institutional weakness at the level of justice,” the state’s failure to protect non-Muslims from discrimination in the realms of “education, employment and social life,” as well as at the political level. Christians with outstanding professional qualifications, the cardinal charged, are denied positions only because of their faith. “Qualification and competence,” the cardinal insisted—and not an individual’s faith—should be the “measure for employment.”

Furthermore the patriarch noted that Christians are denied their rightful quota of five seats in the Iraqi Parliament. He also called for the application of “a civil law for all Iraqis,” rather than Christians and other religious minorities being “subjugated to [an] Islamic court, [with regard to] spiritual, religious matters, marriages, inheritance, etc.”

Patriarch Sako proposed a number of additional “practical measures” to fight the “injustice and discrimination” suffered by religious minorities. He called on the Iraqi leadership and “political ‘powers’” to combat “religious extremism that uses violence” and to take measures toward “disarming militias; providing security and stability; combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption.”

Chaldean Patriarch: ‘constant discrimination, uncertainty’ drive Christians out of Iraq.

Chaldean Patriarch: ‘constant discrimination, uncertainty’ drive Christians out of Iraq.

The cardinal insisted that the Iraqi political leadership should promote “citizenship values” that support the common good by drawing on “principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and true relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations.” Such policies will bring about harmonious “coexistence with Muslims” for Iraqi’s religious minorities.

Finally, the Patriarch called for laws that help create “good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly; preserve their heritage, archeological and historical monuments as an integral part of Iraqi civilization, in order to enable them to continue their lives with dignity.”

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ABOUT US

Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 5000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.