MADRID, Spain, AUG. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Violence in Iraq has led to a continuing decline in the presence of Christians in the country, according to the Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad.
Bishop Shlemon Warduni said this in an interview in Madrid with Aid to the Church in Need following the Aug. 15 violence that left 65 Iraqis dead and 50 injured. Some 17 separate attacks took place across the country, many against Christian churches.
With his brother bishops in Madrid for World Youth Day, Bishop Warduni described the historic loss of the Christian community due to the deteriorating security situation as unprecedented.
"We are seeing so much immigration," said the bishop. "We have not seen this much immigration in the last 300 years!"
The current number of Christians still residing in Iraq is an estimated 200,000, down from 1.2 million at the last estimate prior to the 2003 invasion.
Security and solidarity
"I ask everybody to pray for peace and security and to illuminate the governments to do something good for Iraq and the Middle East," the bishop said, promising also to pray for the work of Aid to the Church in Need.
Bishop Warduni identified the first solution to the problem of escalating violence as the restriction of the sale of weapons. "The first thing is not to sell arms," the bishop said while condemning countries and corporations who sell arms for profit.
With improved security, the bishop hopes peace will soon follow. "I beg you to do all your best to achieve peace and security -- because without that we cannot live."
Be not afraid
Despite the risk that Iraqi Christians may be called to martyrdom be remaining in the country, Bishop Warduni is determined to lead his flock by his own example: "I am a bishop, I am a shepherd, I must be there until the Lord calls me elsewhere. I will not leave my nation and my people."
While he admits it is easy to lose hope in their situation, the bishop continually reminds Christian Iraqis that they must trust Jesus particularly during difficult times.
"For us as Christians," he said, "our strength is in the Lord. He said 'I am with you until the end of the world -- do not be afraid.'"