Carmelite Missionary on Iraq's Ordeal

Interview With Father Manuel Hernández

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, JUNE 1, 2005 ( Father Manuel Hernández Estévez, a Spanish Discalced Carmelite, lives in a monastery that is very near Baghdad’s conflictive “Green Zone,” a constant scene of attacks over the last months.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Hernández explains that he practically cannot leave the monastery because it is “too risky.” He tries to help Iraqi families in difficulties as much as he can, especially those suffering from illnesses that require medical care in Europe, for which the missionary requests aid.

Q: What is the present situation in Iraq?

Father Hernández: I have been here for a year and a half and the truth is that nothing has changed. The problems this country has, of all kinds, are so great that it will take time before it returns to normalcy.

Q: Didn’t the situation improve after the elections?

Father Hernández: The atmosphere has improved, and people’s state of mind; they were very courageous to go to the polls, despite the risks and threats.

But two months after those elections there continue to be so many dead, victims, wounded, mutilated people, and people in sorrow. This is making people lose hope.

Q: What is the current situation of Christians in Iraq?

Father Hernández: Contrary to what is being said, including attempts to demonstrate it because of the terrorist attacks on churches, etc., there is no direct persecution here of Christians by Muslims. As is known, terrorists attack wherever they can; they want to kill people, cause damage, spread terror.

We cannot speak of a confrontation between Islam and Christianity. The terrorists simply seek to cause harm.

Of course, Iraqi Christians live in a Muslim society, and this has many repercussions on social life, access to jobs, universities, schools, etc. They are marginalized because they are a minority, but one cannot speak of a confrontation as such.

Q: How do you feel at this point in time?

Father Hernández: I am sad, because I get nothing but phone calls at all times, from radios, television stations, etc., asking me to tell them what is happening in Iraq.

I tell them that we have people whom we must help, patients who need medical care in Europe, or persecuted individuals who must leave the country. But journalists are not interested in this.

And one’s hands are tied to do the little does. A month ago we sent a family to Madrid, threatened with death; it was very expensive. It is good that they report the news on radio and television, but I would like them to help us a bit, to help us to assist these poor people.

The other day, a man died of gangrene. We were unable to help him, because there were obstacles of all kinds to get him out of the country to receive medical care. Another woman, 45, with five children, died of leukemia. These people also have the right to live and to receive help!

There are obstacles of all kinds, financial, bureaucratic. In cases such as these, which need urgent medical intervention, we can do nothing; we have nothing. In the case of that young woman, a transplant would have saved her life.

Q: Are you thinking of leaving this very dangerous situation and returning to Europe?

Father Hernández: No, no, it’s not that. It’s not that I don’t want to return to Spain; I am no hero. It is necessary to stay here, not in a presumptuous way. I see that these people must be helped to rise again.

We Christians must stay here; we are not going to go, now that they need us and then come back when things have improved and ask: “How are you?” It’s common sense.

Those of us who have been in missions all our life are guided by other parameters. We must give witness of the love of Jesus to these people, being with them in good and bad times.

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