By JÃ¼rgen Liminski and John Pontifex
THE plight of Christians in Iraq was highlighted in a meeting between two leading bishops from the country and the President of the Council of Europe, Hermann Van Rompuy.
In their meeting with Mr Van Rompuy yesterday (Tuesday, 13th September), Archbishops Bashar Warda of Erbil and Amil Nona of Mosul said there was no religious freedom in Iraq.
The two Chaldean-rite bishops stressed the need for Christians to receive help to build schools, saying that with Muslims making up 90 percent of places available, Church-run education schemes benefitted the whole of society.
Archbishop Warda said: â€œEducation would help to develop a new culture as well as freedom of religion, opening up new perspectives for young people.â€
The half-hour meeting in Brussels took place in the framework of visits organised by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted and other suffering Christians.
During the discussions, Mr Rompuy asked about peopleâ€™s living conditions in Iraq, womenâ€™s rights and how Europe could help.
Both bishops have given bold witness to the suffering of Christians and others in Iraq.
Christians and church buildings in Archbishop Nonaâ€™s Archdiocese of Mosul have come under repeated attack and his own predecessor, Archbishop Boulos Faraj Rahho died in captivity in March 2008.
Speaking in March in London at the launch of ACNâ€™s â€˜Persecuted and Forgotten?â€™ report on oppressed Christians, Archbishop Warda declared that since 2003 up to 500 Christians had been killed for specifically religious or political reasons.
He added that over the same period 66 churches had been attacked and that 4,000 Iraqi Christian families had fled to his diocese of Erbil in Kurdish northern Iraq to escape violence and intimidation.
In the meeting with Mr Van Rompuy, both bishops highlighted human rights concerns stemming from Article 3 of Iraqâ€™s constitution which enshrines the supremacy of Islamic Shariâ€˜a law.
Archbishop Warda said: â€œArticle Three of Iraqâ€™s constitution grants primacy to Islamic Shariâ€˜a law â€“ no legislation is permitted to violate the Shariâ€˜a.â€
During the ACN schedule of meetings bishops also met Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), European Union Commission officials and Hans-Gert PÃ¶ttering, the former President of the European Parliament and present Chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The meetings demonstrated the EUâ€™s growing concern about Christians in the Middle East.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity â€“ helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named â€œAn outstanding Apostle of Charityâ€, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiativeâ€™s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Needâ€™s Childâ€™s Bible â€“ God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACNâ€™s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charityâ€™s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.