MIDDLE EAST: Baghdad priest describes hope amid pain following recent attacks

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elo_94311_baghdad_md1.jpgBy Matthew Davies and Lisa B. Hamilton February 05, 2008
 [Episcopal News Service] The minister at Iraq’s last remaining Anglican church says it is difficult to describe the pain in Baghdad after remote-controlled explosives were strapped to two women with Down syndrome and detonated on February 1 in coordinated attacks that left at least 100 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

“The[se] atrocities and how they were carried out are just too terrible to take in,” the Rev. Canon Andrew White, Anglican priest at St. George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad, writes in an email to Episcopal News Service. “We all had such hope that things were changing for the better; we still hope and pray that is the case. Today at Church there was pain, fear but also hope.”

The coordinated blasts — 20 minutes apart and in different parts of the city — “appeared to reinforce U.S. claims [that] al-Qaida in Iraq may be increasingly desperate and running short of able-bodied men willing or available for such missions,” the Associated Press reports.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the bombings as “the most brutal and bankrupt of movements” by al-Qaida that would strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism, according to the AP.

Known as the “English vicar of Baghdad,” White routinely wears bullet-proof clothes and is escorted to St. George’s by a brigade of the Iraqi Special Forces, complete with guns and armored cars.

He estimates that 90 percent of Iraq’s Christians, who once numbered more than a million, have fled or been murdered by Islamic extremists during the religious civil war.

“Some are kidnapped,” says White. “Here in this church, all of my leadership was originally taken and killed. This is one of the problems. I regularly do funerals here, but it’s not easy to get the bodies.”

It is dangerous being a Christian in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, White says.

“Despite the fact that the Christian community here is one of the most ancient in the world, with roots going back to the dawn of our religion, my parishioners have been threatened and intimidated out of their homes and businesses,” he adds. “Most of those with money have long since fled over the borders to Syria, Jordan and further afield. Those who are left are usually either poor or widowed — or both.”

In many cases, according to White, “their only place of shelter, protection, and help is the church…We have to totally take care of all our people, with food, medicine, surgery.”

— Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online and Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the Anglican Communion. The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton, Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces I and IV.