Wedding fire tragedy in Iraq: “We cannot describe the pain”, says Archbishop

What should have been a symbol of hope for Christians in Iraq turned into a moment of despair. ACN asks all its benefactors to pray for those who died or were hurt, but also for the Christian community as a whole.

The Christian community in Iraq has once again been brought to its knees by a tragedy which left over 100 people dead and 150  injured at a Christian wedding in Qaraqosh, Iraq

The accident occurred during the wedding of a Syriac Catholic couple, when fireworks ignited the ceiling of the hall where the wedding party was being held. The fire spread very quickly, trapping many of the 1000 guests inside.

Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda (Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Erbil)
Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda (Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Erbil)

In a statement sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, said that “words cannot adequately describe the pain of those bringing their loved ones to their final resting places in their ancient land. What was to be a time of joy has now turned into a whole community in mourning and deep shock”.

With the tragedy, it turned into yet another dark page in a community that still suffers from the outcomes of ISIS with a lack of jobs and basic resources in a very divided country.

The Christian community in Iraq has suffered disproportionately from the violence and social and economic hardship resulting from decades of civil strife, and a savage jihadist insurgence. Qaraqosh is an ancient village where its once 10,000 families fled from ISIS in August 2014; already half have come back since the right to return in May 2017. It is has become one of the symbols for suffering Christians in a country which has seen the overall Christian community drop from over 1.4 million in 2003 to few hundred thousand today.

“Patriarchs, bishops, and priests from all confessions gathered today in Qaraqosh to bury those who had perished”, wrote Archbishop Warda. Funerals are expected to continue to be held over the coming days. Some people are still missing. It is difficult to identify some of the bodies because of the severity of the burns. Dozens of guests are in hospital with life threatening burns and inhalation of toxic fumes.

ACN has funded many projects in Qaraqosh, and has contributed significantly to the fact that over 60% of its population returned after the region was cleared of jihadists. Among the many victims are 10 relatives of Fr Boutros Sheeto, a Syriac Catholic priest of Qaraqosh, whose parish church was restored with ACN funds. At the time he told the pontifical charity that “having the church restored gives the community psychological and moral strength. Without this reconstruction many families today would be thinking about emigrating.”

“I ask for your prayers for those souls we have lost and the severely injured. I ask you to pray for the Syriac community and their families within Iraq and the diaspora”, Archbishop Warda wrote in his statement.

Unity in tragedy

Reactions to the tragedy came quickly from the heads of different Christian communities, but also from Muslim and secular leaders.

“This tragedy has brought the people of Iraq together again. The Sunnis have cancelled their celebrations of the birth of their prophet Mohammad, and we have statements of condolences and support from the Shia community as well. The Governments of Iraq and Kurdistan also announced three days of mourning”, said Archbishop Bashar Warda.

ACN continues to stand in solidarity with Iraqi Christians, and calls on its benefactors and friends to pray for the recovery of the wounded, the salvation of the dead and encouragement for those who remain.

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