Iraqi archbishop holds out hope for reconciliation during Easter season

Erbil, Iraq, Apr 27, 2011 / 01:51 pm (CNA).- A leading voice in the Iraqi Church believes his community can still play a role in reconciling the country, despite the continued threats and attacks that have decimated its Christian population.

“The Church was born through God’s willingness to seek reconciliation with man through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Erbil diocese. “So you could say we are experts in the field of reconciliation and we may be able to help.”

“People are still suffering very much because of the instability,” he told Aid to the Church in Need in an April 26 interview. “We offer a prayer and willingness to help with the process towards reconciliation and cooperation.” Violent threats forced the cancellation of some services during Holy Week, and the bombing of a mostly-empty church on Easter Sunday injured four people in Baghdad.

In Mosul, one of Iraq’s most dangerous areas, large numbers of Christians defied a local curfew and walked for up to an hour to attend a Good Friday service.

Government-enforced road closures, meant to prevent violence against Mosul’s Chaldean Catholics, forced Archbishop Amil Nona to cancel the previous day’s Holy Thursday liturgy. The Easter Vigil was also rescheduled due to security concerns.

Mosul, 200 miles outside of Baghdad, has become a target for Islamic extremists seeking to rid Iraq of Christians through a campaign of violence. But worshipers packed the Church of St. Paul to honor Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday.

“People in Mosul really encouraged Archbishop Amil by their willingness to participate in the service,” said Archbishop Warda. He reflected that the remembrance of God’s own incarnate suffering “is always very uplifting and special in the life of the community.”

Another sign of hope for Iraqi Christians came on Easter Sunday at Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation.

Last October, 58 people died when gunmen stormed the cathedral and detonated suicide-bombing devices during a Sunday Mass. But last week, the church was crowded with worshipers celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter.

The Syriac Catholic priests, who lost two of their number in last year’s massacre, had to schedule three Easter liturgies rather than the single service they originally planned, in order to accommodate the surge in attendance.