A divine soul in the land of fires

By:Robert ewan
Bishop Andraos Abouna, auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Baghdad
Bishop Andraos Abouna was born on 23rd March 1943 in the village of Bedare, on the outskirts of the northern Iraqi town of Zakho.Born into a disciplined Christian family of four brothers and four sisters, since his tender years, his faith in Christ guided his footsteps towards priesthood.
At the age of 14 he left his village and headed for Mosul, a city famous for its plethora of churches and monasteries. He enrolled at its renowned seminary of St Peter, were generations of seminarians have come to study.
He studied diligently, immersed in the world of religion and Christian solicitude. After completing his studies he was ordained priest on 5th June 1966.Ayear later he was appointed parish priest for the diocese of Basra in southern Iraq. This was the time when Iraq was witnessing severe political turmoil. The simmering resentments towards Christians were growing amidst the rise of nationalistic fervour, this was further compounded in 1967, after the six-day war with Israel which resulted in the crushing defeat of the Arab armies.
In these difficult and enduring times the young priest had to tread carefully to protect his small flock. He was instrumental in initiating dialogue between Christians and Moslems. In 1971 he was appointed parish priest of St Joseph church in Baghdad. He served his community for 20 years, he also taught religious studies at the Rahibaat Al Taqaduma girls school run by French Catholic nuns, and was regarded as one of student’s favourite teacher. His precocious talents were noticed by the Chaldean Patriarch the late Raphael Bidaweed and he selected him as his personal secretary and assistant in 1989.
Throughout the 1980’s, the Iraqi Catholic community in the UK gradually increased mainly due to the pernicious Iran-Iraq war, the majority of graduate academics and their families opted not to go back to the furnace of war. The community, without an effective priest and a parish of their own, were scattered and would attend various Catholic churches for mass and any other special events .Against this backdrop, Father Abouna was appointed parish priest for the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic mission in England in 1991.A position he accepted with some alacrity. He would hold mass every Sunday at the St. Anne’s R.C Church in London (Laxton Place). He revived several parish activities, such as newsletter, family gatherings.
He managed to blend very easily with his new community .The shepherd gathered his lost sheep and eventually the community emerged from its languidness and found their sense of identity.
During this period, Iraq was emerging from its apocalyptic destruction as a result of the second Gulf war.Additionally; the United Nations imposed economic and financial sanctions on Iraq which lasted thirteen years. The gracious father felt the pain and the unmerited ordeals of the innocent Iraqi people both Christian and Moslems.With his stout heart bearing the burden of the Iraqi people he was fully and unequivocally committed to lifting of the sanctions. Naturally, the Iraqi Catholic community felt the anguish of their brethrens in Iraq and Father Abouna was instrumental in nourishing his exhausted congregation and, with his kind words and deeds, he gave them peace in their turmoil.
On 22 November 2002 he was elevated to the position of Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad and personal secretary to the current head of Chaldean church patriarch Emmanuel III Delly.
On 6 January 2003, the feast of epiphany, he was personally consecrated by the late Pope John Paul II with eleven other new bishops. Shorty afterwood, he returned to Baghdad to help shepherd a community of some 700,000 Iraqi Chaldean Catholics who found themselves at ground zero of a war that was looming in the horizon.
Within weeks of taking office, the allied invasion of Iraq commenced and Saddam Hussein was ousted. Since the invasion, a wave of unprecedented cross-sect terror was ignited with the main groups of Sunni and Shia in a frantic race to exterminate each other. These groups also viewed the American led invasion as a Christian crusade, and Iraqi Christians as its supporters and collaborators. As Iraq continued to loos all semblances of peace and order the persecution of Christians continued in its ferocity. He worked assiduously to help his people to deal with bomb attacks on churches, kidnapping and the indiscriminate killing. The mass exodus of Christians from Baghdad created sever shortages in priests and deacons, Bishop abbouna stayed defiantly in Baghdad and conducted regular mass at the church of Our Lady of Assumption in the, once eloquent, Al Mansour district of Baghdad.
The bishop’s health started deteriorating since 2008 as a result of kidney complications. He underwent intensive treatment in London and Baghdad.
Despite his ill health he took charge of the Catholic youth pastoral care, holding events and talks when the security situation permitted.
In May 2010, Bishop Abouna underwent a complicated kidney surgery and he seemed to have recovered and was looking forward to meet the Pope in Rome in September and then to his favourite retreat place of London.
On Sunday 25 of July, he had a relapse and was admitted to a hospital in Irbil were he died on Tuesday morning 27 of July 2010.