The Churches have a role to play in Iraq

Travel Report of Marie-Ange Siebrecht of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on the plight of Christians in Iraq

By Eva-Maria Kohlmann

She is still a young nun, barely in her mid-20s. She is studying at the University of Mosul so that she can better serve her community. But although the journey from her convent to the University is not long, she has to travel by taxi. It is too dangerous to go on foot. Only recently this young sister found herself caught up in a bomb attack. Her clothes were suddenly spattered with blood – but she herself was lucky this time and escaped uninjured. It is not safe for her to wear a religious habit either, for Christians in Iraq are under constant threat.

To this day the bloodshed in Mosul continues, almost daily. Although the devastating bomb attacks that have hitherto focused world attention on Iraq now seem to have ceased, life is still marked by violence, according to Marie-Ange Siebrecht, the Middle East specialist of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), who visited the country recently. “Internationally there is less talk now about Iraq, but the situation is still very, very bad”, she adds.

In the north of the country, where many Christians have fled in order to escape the violence, people are having a hard time to survive. “Basically, I’m an optimistic person”, Mrs Siebrecht remarks, “but I was horrified at the situation people have to face”. In the villages where the refugees have found shelter there is no work and most people are simply waiting for each day to end. “There are no prospects for the people, and no future. Many simply want to leave the country.”

There are some rays of light however. “The religious sisters are doing outstanding work. Most of them have left Mosul and gone to the plains of Niniveh and to Kurdistan. Here they are caring for orphaned children, helping to give catechetical instruction and visiting the families. People can depend on them!”, Mrs Siebrecht remarks with satisfaction, adding that there are also many young priests and lay people with energy and initiative.
What is especially noticeable is that people want to know more about their Faith during these difficult times.
“More support must be given to catechesis”, Marie-Ange said. “So many children are making their First Holy Communion and the churches are full. We went to Mass in Kirkuk on a quite ordinary Sunday and found over a thousand people in the church”, she recalls. “The churches in Iraq have to be protected by armed guards, but the faithful continue to come! They need help to restore their catechetical centres and provide catechetical material. Humanitarian aid is also important, of course, but there is a massive demand for religious instruction. We should try to respond to this.”

Incredible though it may seem, despite the on-going oppression, murder and abductions of Christians in Iraq there are also a great many spiritual vocations. Only recently two more Christians were murdered in Mosul, but despite this, many young people still want to become priests or nuns. It is on their faces that one sees the smiles that are otherwise lacking in the country.

One can scarcely reiterate often enough that this region was once, so to speak, the heartland of the Old Testament. Babylon, Ur, Niniveh, Mesopotamia – all these places are to be found in present day Iraq. “The Churches have a role to play here and can make an important contribution to peace in Iraq! They must remain faithful to their vocation and be there for the people”, Marie Ange Siebrecht concludes.

So how would she sum up her journey and her encounter with the Christian faithful in Iraq? “We, as ACN, must do more to help Iraqi Christians remain in their homeland. All the Christians in the country must join forces and build a future together!”

To help keep Christianity alive in Iraq, the Holy Land and Middle East please send your donation to the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Donate on line at