The military operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS is not the only solution needed to get life back to normal, said Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil.
The Chaldean Catholic archbishop, who has called for such intervention in the past, said the solution was a package. People must “think again about the education, about the curriculum, about all the violent acts that happened during the last years.”
“Where is the possibility of creating, of building bridges of reconciliation among the divided community?” he asked.
Archbishop Warda spoke to Catholic News Service on October 20, the fourth day of the US-backed operation in which Iraqi and Kurdish forces fought to free Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State. He said troops would not find any Christians in and around Mosul, because they fled in 2014, when ISIS militants gave them a choice to convert to Islam, pay the Islamic jizya tax, or be killed.
Many of those Christians fled to Irbil, where the Church has been caring for them. Just within the city, the Irbil Archdiocese is providing housing to more than 10,000 internally displaced families, but many more live in trailers or open buildings.
Church people work “to provide the necessary needs: shelter, education, health, food packages, and be with them, and try to comfort them in their material needs and their spiritual and pastoral needs,” the archbishop said. The people need “social intervention and political intervention, economic intervention and, most importantly, how we are going to reconcile all those divided groups which will remain, and they’ve been called to live together?”
The Christians from the region are the original owners of the land, he said. Many have said their neighbours turned against them as ISIS approached.
“We have lived with Islam for 1,400 years. There was a trust in us, and we have to build on this trust — initiatives for the peaceful future,” he told CNS. “We need the outside world to help us” start such initiatives, but they must come from within, because people are suspicious of outsiders.
Archbishop Warda spoke of celebrating Mass with the displaced, calling it “Eucharist in the fullest sense.”
“Everyone has given something valuable and painful to remain Christian,” he said.
Celebrating Mass is “different because you are with a suffering people, with persecuted people who made the right choice — Christ — so here we have a Church which is alive. Yes, there are faces tired of what’s happening, being persecuted, but every response you get from the community during Mass is full of faith. And you could sense that they made the right choice, to stay Christians and to suffer for their faith,” he said. It adds “a special joy for the Mass.”
Archbishop Warda, who often visits Iraqis in the United States, said Church leaders in his country are asking the US government “to play a role in protecting the minorities, because we’ve seen that, due to this American intervention in 2003, they have a moral responsibility, really, to finish the whole job in a decent and a dignified way. Minorities have suffered a lot because of all this intervention. I’m not blaming (the US) directly, but … they are responsible, morally responsible for what happened.”
He also thanked American Catholics for their prayers and material help during the crisis, noting that it “made a difference in the life of brothers and sisters in Iraq.” He asked for their continued support and for them to be a voice for Christians in the Middle East.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund