Iraq – Archbishop Warda                                                                                                    09.06.2015

“The support of Aid to the Church in Need was immediate and decisive. Without it we couldn’t provide accommodation to thousands of families,” So said Bishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, during a conference organized by ACN in Rome yesterday. Since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis in June 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has provided more than 7 million Euros in aid. According to the Bishop, ACN’s help makes up for 60% of all the donations received by the archdiocese of Erbil.

Bishop Warda described how his diocese responded to the humanitarian crisis following the arrival of 120 thousand Christian refugees in Kurdistan, from June to August of last year. “At the beginning we set up 26 different assistance points within the archdiocese. People were sleeping in tents or inside vacated buildings. Now they all have a decent accommodation.”

It’s almost been a year since the Islamic State seized Mosul, in the night between the 9th and 10th of June 2014. “Throughout this time the Church tried to help people restore their trust in the future and to keep our community together,” Bishop Warda said. Nevertheless, at least 8000 Christians already fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Among them were 500 out of the 6000 Christians families that took refuge in Kurdistan from 2003 to 2014, as they were escaping, “The persecution that was ongoing in cities like Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk.”

An uncertain future as well as insecurity prompted the Church to find longer-lasting accommodations for the refugees. “Even if Mosul and Nineveh Plains were freed immediately, it would take a year before people would be able to return to their homes,” Bishop Warda said. However, it is also necessary to invest in reconstruction and development of the areas that have been taken back from Isis. “Even if Tikrit was freed no one returned to live there,” Bishop Warda said. “Who would want to live in a destroyed city?”

Bishop Warda called on the International community to put pressure on the Iraqi government. “Internal divisions cannot be more important than finding concrete solutions.” He also deems a military intervention to be necessary. “The Islamic State is a cancer and we must prevent its spread.”

Christian persecution must also be stopped. “Christians have been asked to choose between conversion, payment of the jizya tax or departing. It’s clear that we are facing persecution, even though sometimes we are considered as collateral damages.”

Bishop Warda is also hopeful that Pope Francis will soon visit Erbil. «Last time we met, back in November 2014, he himself told me he wished to visit. The Pope’s visit would have a very strong impact on the Christian community.”

Then president of Aid to the Church in Need Italy, Alfredo Mantovano, urged both the media and the public to constantly keep tabs on overall Christian persecution, not only on recurring tragedies such as the attack on Garissa University.  He also added that, “ACN’s aid helped thousands of Iraqi Christians families get back to a quasi-normal life. Our next goal should be to let those people go back to their original regions: Lands which are incredibly interesting both on a historical and religious level.”

Marta Petrosillo,