By: John Pontifex
Tributes have been paid to Bishop Andreas Abouna of Iraq who died today (Tuesday, 27 July) after a lifetime of a ministry to a Church beset by war, oppression and increasing hardship. Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad died in hospital thisÂ morning in Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq.
Bishop Andreas was 67 and had suffered from a kidney complaint. Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly is due to preside at Bishop Abounaâ€™s funeral this evening (Tuesday, 27th July) at Saint Josephâ€™s Cathedral in Ankawa, near Erbil.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told Aid to the Church in Need that Bishop Abouna was a pastor who was â€œalways smiling, even in very difficult situationsâ€.
Andreas Abouna was born on 23rd March 1943 in the village of Bedar, outside the northern Iraqi town of Zakho.
Aged 14, he joined Saint Peterâ€™s Seminary â€“ then based in the northern city of Mosul â€“ and was ordained a priest for the Chaldean Catholic Church on 5th June 1966.
He was a parish priest in the diocese of Basra in southern Iraq from 1967 and four years later he was appointed parish priest of Saint Joseph the Workerâ€™s Church, Baghdad, where he served for 20 years.
In 1989 he became personal secretary to Chaldean Catholic leader Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid of Baghdad.
Nearly two years later he moved to Ealing, west London, where he became priest in charge of the Chaldean and Syrian-Catholic Mission in England, a role he fulfilled for 11 years.
On 11 November 2002 he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad and he returned to his native country the following year after being ordained to the episcopate in Rome by Pope John Paul II on 6th January 2003.
Within weeks of the bishop taking office, Saddam Hussein was overthrown and key parts of Iraq including Baghdad fell victim to extreme violence.
Christians were among the worst to suffer and Bishop Abouna helped his people in the face of insurgent activity including bomb attacks on churches and threats of violence against non-Muslims. This catalogue of incidents sparked a mass exodus from the city.
Amid increasing health problems, Bishop Abouna stayed in Baghdad, holding youth events where security allowed.
He responded to a shortage of priests by serving at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption, in the cityâ€™s Al Mansour district.
Archbishop Warda said: â€œHe was a very close friend not just to me but to so many others. He was always smiling, even in very difficult situations.â€
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said: â€œBishop Abouna was a very good and humble man, very open-minded.
“He really took care of each one of his priests and he always worked for the unity of the Church. I hope he can pray for us from heaven.â€
Aid to the Church in Need, which had helped fund Bishop Abounaâ€™s health care, worked closely with him on projects including the relocation of Saint Peterâ€™s Seminary away from Baghdad, where the situation had become unsafe.
Marie-Ange Siebrecht, Aid to the Church in Needâ€™s projects coordinator for Iraq, said: â€œI had the pleasure to meet Bishop Abouna many times during my visits to northern Iraq.
â€œHe was a very spiritual person and had great concern for the priests and seminarians he was in charge of.
â€œEspecially in Baghdad he played a great role among the priests to try to show them that there is a future in their country.â€
Iraqi Christians in Need have set up a condolence book on their website: www.icin.org.uk/pages/Condolences.html