IRAQ – Christians are desperate for help
A recent visit organised by ACN to Erbil, a region of Iraq where millions of displaced Iraqis currently live, revealed that Christian families in particular were still in great need of help to survive. Iraqi Christians are currently in a desperate situation, especially as many aid agencies are pulling out or scaling back their activities. Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who is overseeing aid efforts in, said that thousands of Christian families have left the refugee camps. Numbers of Christian families in the camps fell from 120,000 to 100,000 and many families have left the country.
He deplored the lack of aid from the Iraqi government in Baghdad and criticised the government for failing to help the displaced Christians who are hungry, often sick and in need of somewhere to live. This is in contrast to charities such Aid to the Church in Need which helped in Iraq with €10 million donations last year alone. Warda insisted that the U.S. government should be responsible for helping the displaced Christians because of its role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Archbishop Warda was speaking to a delegation to the aid distribution centre in Erbil, organised by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that supports persecuted Christians around the world. Three British Members of Parliament (MP) along with ACN UK representatives recently made a trip to Erbil, Iraq, to learn more about the situation of the refugees in the region.
The MPs who joined the trip were: Jim Shannon – MP for Strangford (Northern Ireland), Chris Green – MP for Bolton West and Mark Menzies – MP for Fylde. ACN was represented by Neville Kyrke-Smith – ACN National Director, Fr Dominic Robinson- ACN National Ecclesiastical Assistant and Dr Caroline Hull – ACN NW Manager.
Jim Shannon described his feelings when visiting one of the camps: “There were many things that impressed me, but one thing that impressed me greatly was when we went around the camps and I met some of the displaced people was this – they had lost so much, but they had on their walls a picture of the Lord Jesus with the words: ‘Jesus I will trust in thee’. For me though it was their faith that was sustaining them, so it was an important visit to make and one that I’ll never forget.”
Mark Menzies said he was humbled by his experience of Ankawa’s Christians and realized how much in the West we take for granted the freedom to practice religion.
Archbishop Warda told the delegation that his priorities are to provide food, housing and medical facilities for displaced families, who also needed pastoral care and spiritual support. He urged the visitors tell others about the situation of Christians in Iraq: “We rely on you telling the story of the situation and the importance of Christians remaining, so that the Christians can help be a bridge between the different groups.”
There was a glimmer of hope for the Christian community in Iraq, which has suffered terrible losses as a result of the Islamic State reign of terror. During the visit the ACN delegation attended an ordination service in Ankawa. The new priests included Fr Martin Banni, aged just 25, who trained at St Peter’s Seminary, Erbil. While many members of Fr Banni’s family have left Iraq for the US or Sweden, he decided to remain in Iraq to act as pastor for its remaining Christians.
Patriarch Raphael Sako, Head of the Chaldean Church, said: “This ordination is a sign of hope – we hope that the refugees will be able to go home soon. Father Martin should be a model of Christ – of courage and sacrifice.”
Jim Shannon, a Baptist who joined the delegation with the intention of supporting Iraqi Christians as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief said he was encouraged at the Catholic ordination by seeing so many young Iraqis on fire in the love of the Lord. He sums up the visit to Erbil: “It was illuminating, it was heartening, it was humbling. For me, it was an opportunity to see in some places a very thriving Church, and in other places a very persecuted Church, to meet some of those who had to flee with only the shirt on their backs as Daesh descended upon them to do their worst.”