By Ruth Gledhill
The Christian Church is “dissolving” in front of the eyes of its own people in its ancient homelands in the Middle East, according to a senior Archbishop from the stricken region.
Mgr Bashar Matti Warda, Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq, said a “massive” migration was now occurring as Christians fled from where they are hated.
“We are hated because we persist in wanting to exist as Christians,” the Chaldean prelate told the news agency Fides.
Mgr Warda, of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, said: “For the Chaldean Church, and our sister churches of the East, the persecution our community is enduring is doubly painful and severe.
“We are personally affected by the need, and by the reality that our vibrant church life is dissolving in front of our eyes.”
He said the “deeply sorrowful” reality was that the flight of the persecuted was leaving the Church “much weaker”, but he could not in all conscience persuade Christians to remain. All they could do now was wait for military aid or other relief from abroad.
“We who are part of the church hierarchy are very often tempted to encourage our parishioners to stay – keep the presence of Christ alive in this special land. But truly I and my brother bishops and priests can do no more than to advise young mothers and fathers to take all the necessary considerations into account and to pray long and hard before taking such a momentous, and perhaps perilous, decision.
“The Church is unable to offer and guarantee the fundamental security that its members need to thrive.”
He said hatred of minorities had intensified over the past few years but it was difficult to understand.
“We are hated because we persist in wanting to exist as Christians. In other words, we are hated because we persist in demanding a basic human right.”
He urged the wider Church to pray for all refugees in Iraq and around the world and also to raise awareness of the risk that the Church in Iraq might not survive.
“I cannot repeat…loudly enough that our well-being, as a historic community, is no longer in our hands. The future will come, in one way or the other, and for us this means waiting to see what sort of aid – military, relief aid – arrives.”
So far, more than 5,000 families have fled Iraq since last summer, with some now in Europe, the United States or Australia but many stranded indefinitely in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The Archbishop’s community in Erbil has made shelters in church gardens and halls, catechism classrooms, public schools, tents, unfinished buildings and in rented houses where the Church is accommodating in some cases up to 30 people in one house. The Church has also set up 1,700 caravans around Erbil to house the 2,000 families living in tents and unfinished buildings before winter sets in.
In addition, the Chaldeans have opened two medical centres to offer free medical services to the refugee community. The Sacred Heart Sisters from India are running St. Joseph’s clinic with the help of 12 young doctors, serving 2000 patients at a monthly cost of US$ 42,000. They are adapting another building as a maternity and child care hospital and have opened a trauma response centre. They are also providing education for refugee children.
The Chaldean Catholic Church, founded between the first and third centuries, was until the 16th century part of Assyrian Church.