Iraqi Catholics who have fled to Britain are looking for a
spiritual home where they can save their language and customs from dying
out, the head of their mission said.
Fr Nadheer Dako, who ministers to the 4,000 Chaldeans across Britain
who have escaped increasing hostility in Iraq, said that when the
Archbishop of Erbil had visited London, he asked Cardinal Vincent
Nichols for a church but had been refused.
“We asked the Catholic bishops for a building when Archbishop Bashar
Warda was over in February and Cardinal Nichols said none was
available.” England and Wales are home to more than 70 ethnic
chaplaincies but Fr Nadheer said the Chaldeans were not “just another
ethnic chaplaincy” –“we’re facing genocide”.
Two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.4m Christians left their homeland in the ten
years since the US-led invasion of 2003, and thousands fled to
semi-autonomous Kurdistan after the fall of Mosul to Islamic State last
summer. He added: “Jews have a homeland; we have no other homeland.”
Fr Nadheer, who survived two abduction attempts by Al-Qaeda when he
was a parish priest in Baghdad, said that especially since IS’s rapid
advances in Iraq and Syria, “[in Britain] nobody’s thinking about going
A spokeswoman for the diocese of Westminster said the needs of the
ethnic chaplaincies were greater than it could meet, but noted that the
cardinal had urged Maronite Catholics, when he celebrated Mass for them
in February, to bring the “richness” of their traditions into the life
of the diocese.
What was needed, said Fr Nadheer, is a centre where they could carry
out catechism, youth work, cultural events and lessons in the language
of Chaldean worship – Aramaic, a form of the language Christ spoke. The
mission is run from a modest priest’s house where running children’s
catechism led to neighbours complaining about the noise. With a stronger
sense of cultural identity, people would feel more confident about
integrating into British culture, he said.
“I preach in Aramaic or Arabic but most of the community doesn’t
understand it. People want me to preach in Arabic; the younger
generation want me to preach in English,” he added.
“The mission’s been here since 1986 but we still
haven’t integrated. Our people are afraid of losing their culture and
traditions. They have friends through work but not in their daily life.
The older generation don’t want to integrate, but the younger one does.”
Asked whether he thought Britain should accept Iraqi and Syrian
Christians as refugees, he said they would prefer to stay, but that
would require the international community to create a safe haven for