EUROPE: French government seeks help from Episcopal convocation in assisting Baghdad’s wounded Christians

By ENS staff
[Episcopal News Service] The French government is looking to the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe to assist in the treatment and resettling of Christians wounded in the Oct. 31 attack on the Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq, that left 58 people dead.
Europe Bishop Pierre Whalon said Nov. 2 that he welcomes the initiative of the French government to work with the Association d’Entraide aux Minorités d’Orient (AEMO) to bring relief to the wounded Iraqi Christians.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office on Nov. 1 informed Whalon, who is president of AEMO, that “France will spare no effort to offer refuge and medical care to those victims who request it,” according to a press release from the convocation. Eric Besson, France’s minister of immigration, announced the initiative publicly.

The commitment follows French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s Oct. 25 promise to empower AEMO to resettle more Iraqi Christians and members of other religious minorities whose lives are in danger because of their faith, the release said.

Since 2008, Episcopalians in Europe, Iraqi Chaldeans, and French Catholics have assisted with resettling refugees after Whalon urged the French government to support a new immigration program that offers sanctuary to persecuted Iraqi religious minorities. Whalon was a special guest of Sarkozy in September 2008, when the program’s first Iraqi participants were invited to Elysée Palace during Pope Benedict XVI’s first official visit to France.

To date, AEMO has facilitated the safe transfer of 1,240 Iraqis into France. Besides Christians, the migrants have included Muslims and Mandeans whose lives were endangered.

The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe includes 20 parishes, missions and specialized ministries throughout Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

Religious leaders, including World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit and Pope Benedict XVI, have condemned the recent Baghdad attacks as a “criminal act of terror.”

Tveit said that the WCC’s 349 churches representing more than 500 million Christians have been deeply troubled by the “by the continuous suffering of Christians in Iraq and continues to stand in solidarity with all churches as they pass through turbulent and challenging times … amidst hatred and aggression.”

The convocation press release follows in English and French