Living in Baghdad – Living in Fear

1118iraq_fr_jaje.jpgBy John Newton
A YEAR after the attack which left 58 Christians dead in Baghdad, the faithful in Iraq’s capital city continue to be scared of fresh violence.
“Living in Iraq means living in fear. There’s no feeling safe and during the last two or three weeks the situation has got worse, because of tensions among political parties,” said Fr Amir Jaje, Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad and Vicar to the Arab World.
He made his statement to Aid to the Church in Need during a visit to the charity’s international headquarters in Konigstein, Germany.
Fr Amir said that all Iraqis are living in fear, adding that when a country is shaken by political tensions “minorities suffer the worst consequences”.
He said that police stationed outside churches have failed to reassure the faithful, as it is believed extremists have infiltrated congregations.
Anxieties increased in Baghdad as the first anniversary approached of the October 31st attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation – in which 58 died, including Fr Jaje’s cousin, Fr Wasim Sabieh.
He said: “People attending the Mass [commemorating the attack on the Cathedral] were scared, because every time there’s political tension, the extremists exploit it to cause violence and spread their message.”
He added that despite fear, the faith of Christians in Iraq has been strong and they have not fallen into despair.
Fr Jaje said: “Our hope is like a small candle still burning in a dark tunnel. And I believe that we will not lose this hope.”
The Dominicans are working with the Muslim community to establish a new university where Christians and Muslims would study together.
But, the Dominican said that people are continuing to emigrate because of the problems in Iraq.
“The next five or six years are going to be crucial to determine if Christians will stay in the country.”
According to the priest’s estimates there were 1,200 Christians in Baghdad before the fall of Saddam Hussein, this may have now halved.
He said: “They are still leaving. The ones who could afford it already moved to Europe or USA.
“The second choice for them was nearer countries like Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan.
“The third choice was Northern Iraq, but many of those who left are coming back because they can’t find work or can’t get accustomed to the Kurdish language.”
In order to stem the tide of those leaving Iraq, the Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad said that people need security, housing and jobs.
Fr Jaje said: “Our religious order has created a fund for the poor that we use to help families who have no money to live.”
The Dominicans plan to launch projects to help people find employment and a place to live.
 He said: “If people can barely survive, how can we ask them to stay in Iraq?”
The Dominicans also have a fund to help sick children who need treatment.
Fr Jaje expressed his gratitude to Aid to the Church in Need for the support it had given the order in its work in Iraq’s capital.
He said: “As the Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad and Vicar to the Arab World I really want to thank ACN’s benefactors whose aid is vital to maintain the presence of Dominicans in Iraq.
“With a simple gesture, they express their deep humanity and their faith. They will always be in our prayers”.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.

For more information, contact John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.