More strife: Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq
IRAQ (ACN News): A leading bishop has described how Christians in Iraq believe “there is no future” for them there but are afraid to flee abroad because of political uncertainty and crises in neighbouring countries.
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq, described the people’s shock after father of four Arakan Yacob, an Orthodox Christian, was shot dead on May 31 in the nearby city of Mosul.
Mr Yacob’s killing was the latest in a series of attacks.
Archbishop Warda said that, since 2002, more than 570 Christians have been killed in religiously and politically-motivated violence.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Warda said that, since Mr Yacob’s death, a number of the faithful had said they wanted to emigrate.
But he said emigration was difficult because of political crisis and uncertainty in neighbouring Syria and Turkey.
Both countries have already provided sanctuary to many thousands of Christians who have fled persecution since 2003, when religious violence escalated after the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Speaking from Erbil, Archbishop Warda told ACN: “The latest murder adds to the pessimistic view that there is no future.
“No matter how you try to convince people things are getting better they say look at these things that are happening.”
Describing renewed talk of emigration among Iraqi Christians, he said: “Even the situation in neighbouring Turkey is not that good and with what’s going on in Syria at the moment a family thinking of emigration has limited choices.”
But he refused to be downcast.
“The message of hope is always there – life should go on – that’s the message,” he said.
Archbishop Warda has made no secret of his people’s suffering.
He has provided statistics showing that since the 1980s the number of Christians in Iraq had plummeted from up to 1.4 million to as low as 150,000.
Amid reports of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing the country, he went on to state that between 2006 and 2010, 17 Iraqi priests and two Iraqi bishops had been abducted and were either beaten or tortured by their kidnappers.
Of those, one bishop, four priests and three sub-deacons were killed.
As a Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Aid to the Church in Need has prioritised help for Iraq in line with a 2007 directive from Pope Benedict XVI to help the Church in the Middle East where he said “it is threatened in its very existence”.
ACN has provided emergency aid for refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, food parcels for displaced Christians in northern Iraq, Mass offerings for poor and oppressed priests, support for religious sisters and help for seminarians displaced to the north of the country.
Thanking ACN, Archbishop Warda said: “It is reassuring to know that people are praying for us.”