“The concept of freedom as a right does not exist here,” explained Catholic Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad. “Also the concept of laicism, often applied to this country, must be understood with caution.”
“If the influence and pressure of extremist groups, which are regaining their vigor, increases in the future, I don’t know what kind of future can be envisioned,” he said.
According to Archbishop Sleiman, in the Arab world the concept of laicism is different from that of the West, as Arabs are used to a close relation between religion, society and the state.
“I certainly don’t see a democratic prospect being close,” he added, expressing the general feeling of 800,000 Christians in the country, who nevertheless express satisfaction over the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Among the Church agencies coping in the postwar era is the House of Love. The small orphanage at 52 Al Wada Street, run by four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, looks after 22 children with mental disabilities and physical malformations.
Sister Carol explained: “During the war, the children understood that things were not going well. During the bombings we told them that it was a bad storm. Some of them asked us to let them see the rain.”
Over the three weeks of the war, churches were open to shelter all those in need, regardless of religion. Once the bombings were over, they all went home.
There is only one hospital in Baghdad, St. Raphael’s, which has not been the object of lootings, perhaps because it had two armed guards — or because of the Franciscan nuns there who inspire respect.
When the bombings were over, they asked the Americans to guard the clinic.
“We lack nothing,” said Sister Maryanne Pierre, who is in charge of the hospital’s administration. “We have medicines, food, water. We are only worried about the generator of electric energy. We have only one and it is working a lot.”
“During the war, we were especially worried about the maternity department,” she said. “The fear caused many women to have premature births; 350 babies were born in two weeks.”
The women arrived, gave birth, and returned home after two hours, as they refused to be away from the rest of their families, the nun explained.
Archbishop Sleiman said: “On one hand, Christians did not want the bombs to fall on them, but on the other, they wanted a change.”
Warned Sister Maryanne: “For a Muslim, the American soldiers are Christians and the conflict is seen as a war against Islam.”