Iraqi priest serves people of Basra

400×268_20090713-a-1377v-11.jpgCONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – Though small in stature, his smile and his presence filled the room as he entered. He paused to shake hands and exchange kisses with U.S. military leaders. He posed for a few photographs, then settled into a couch to begin a meeting with Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, commanding general, Multi-National Division-South, and key members of his staff.

Bishop Imad Al Banna, a Chaldean priest and native of Basra, came to Contingency Operating Base Basra July 13 to share insight with Nash and his staff on his efforts to minister to the people of Basra.

“I work for all people in Basra, not only Christians,” said Al Banna, who is officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as acting Archbishop of Basra. “Our goal is to create a peaceful coexistence among all religions.”

Chap. (Lt. Col.) John Morris, command chaplain, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, said Al Banna has endured hardship while working to make this vision a reality.

“There was a peaceful coexistence until (Operation Iraqi Freedom) began in 2003,” said Morris. “Things got worse starting in 2005 and peaked in 2008. He stayed through all the violence and continued to work. This is a great example of a faithful shepherd.”

Al Banna is responsible for a number of humanitarian initiatives in Basra presently, including two schools and a pharmacy.

“We give free medicine to sick people in Basra,” Al Banna said. “We give 97 percent of our medicine to Muslim patients and 3 percent to Christians.”

The schools are also predominantly used by Muslims in Basra, according to Al Banna. The aim of these institutions is to cultivate a generation of Iraqis who are both educated and aware of their roles in society.

400×300_children-of-father-imads-school.jpgChildren from one of Bishop Imad Al Banna’s primary schools dance and enjoy themselves. The schools, according to Al Banna, exist to teach the children of Basra language, values and social behavior.

“Children are the hope and future of Iraq,” said Al Banna, who currently pastors a Chaldean Christian Church in Basra and is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as acting Archbishop of Basra. (Courtesy photo)
“We do this to support students in Basra and give a good foundation of language, values and social behavior,” Al Banna said. “Our children are the future and hope of Iraq.”

Al Banna said he believes his message of values and respect are making a difference in Basra.

“When the priest gives people a good foundation of instructions and values, they have to respond very positively to me,” he said. “These teachings (are meant to) reach all people in society.”

Al Banna said he is grateful for the positive feedback he receives from Christians and Muslims alike in Basra. He vowed to continue his work among the people in his community.

Though these ministry initiatives are aimed at people of all faiths in Basra, Al Banna also provides ministry through the Chaldean Christian Church to members and officiates services there on a regular basis.

“We have activities for college students, choirs and a program that resembles Sunday School on Fridays,” he said. “We also participate in an international Catholic charity organization through our church.”

Whether ministering to Christians, Muslims or some other faith group within Basra, Al Banna has dedicated his life to one thing: serving the people of Basra and improving their quality of life.
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