“We are hated because we persist in wanting to exist as Christians. In other words, we are hated because we persist in demanding a basic human right.” This strong statement was made by Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq, in a testimony given to Fides, in which the prelate was speaking on the terrible reality facing the Church in the Middle East.
For the Chaldean Church and its sister churches of the East, Archbishop Warda said, the persecution facing our community is “doubly painful and severe. We are personally affected by the need, and by the reality that our vibrant church life is dissolving in front of our eyes. The massive immigration that is now occurring is leaving my church much weaker. This is a deeply sorrowful reality,” he said.
While saying that those in the church hierarchy are very often tempted to encourage our parishioners to stay to keep Christ’s presence in the land alive, there is only so much they can do.
“But truly, I and my brother bishops and priests can do no more than to advise young mothers and fathers to take all the necessary considerations into account and to pray long and hard before taking such a momentous, and perhaps perilous, decision. The Church is unable to offer and guarantee the fundamental security that its members need to thrive. It is no secret that hatred of minorities has intensified in certain quarters over the past few years. It is difficult to understand this hate.”
The Church, he said, can do two things: one, “pray for all refugees around the world and in Iraq”; second, “use the relationships and networks we share in as part of the Church of Christ as a pulpit to raise awareness about the true risk to our survival as a people.”
“I cannot repeat or say loudly enough that our well-being, as a historic community, is no longer in our hands. The future will come, in one way or the other, and for us this means waiting to see what sort of aid (military, relief aid) arrives,” he said.
He explained that more than 5,000 families have left the country since the summer of 2014. While some have been welcomed in Europe, the United States, or Australia, many of them have not. Their futures are, he said, “on indefinite hold,” as they wait in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
He acknowledged the support given to ease the needs of our IDP families and provide them with basic necessities, including shelter. In different sections of the province of Erbil, he noted, houses were leased to accommodate 2,000 families and set up 1,700 caravans. “Now, all our Christian IDPs are in at least a semi-permanent dwelling,” he said.
While this “is still far from ideal,” he noted, it still marks “an improvement on the original tents and semi-completed buildings which had been the best we could do for many.” He also noted that two medical centers were opened to offer free medical services to the refugee community and that an existing building structure is being converted into a maternity and child care hospital.
“Based on our conviction that illiteracy and ignorance are the most dangerous long-term enemy that we face here in the Middle East, and urged by a wish to heal the wounds in the hearts and souls of our faithful,” Archbishop Warda concluded, “we have been working to help our students pursue their studies.” (D.C.L.)