By Aid to the Church in Need
Iraqi Christians, stranded in
Kurdish Iraq, have some reason for hope now that the battle for Mosul and the
Nineveh Plane has begun. However, the Chaldean archbishop who, for two years
now, has played a pivotal role in taking care of the humanitarian and spiritual
needs of the exiled community, urges caution in painting too rosy a picture for
Iraq’s embattled minorities.
“Iran, Turkey and the Kurds all have a stake in Mosul” and
the surrounding area, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, told
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need; even after Mosul is
retaken from ISIS—and odds are that will happen before the end of the year—a
bitter power struggle would likely put Christians seeking to return to their
abandoned homes in harm’s way.
For now, the prelate stressed, no concrete plan is in place to
protect the Christians and other minorities upon their return to Mosul and the
Nineveh Plane. He predicted that it would at least take close to a year before
a significant degree of homecoming would be possible.
Meanwhile, the archbishop—who was in New York as the guest
of Cardinal Timothy Dolan—continues to care for the flock in Erbil and
surroundings, which means drumming up considerable funding to ensure that IDP
families can pay their rent, that homes can be heated, that there will be food
on the table, and that schools are functioning. For the past two years, the
Archdiocese of Erbil has received more than $31 M in funding from Aid to the
Church in Need, in addition to support from 16 other Catholic organizations
from around the world.
Contrary to some reports, the archbishop insists that 80
percent of the people under his care wish to remain in Iraq. But he adds that “even
if the number drops to 10,000 families” or some 60,000 people—down from the current
estimated total of 250,000 Christians, including those living in Baghdad—“there
will always be Christians in Iraq.”
Archbishop Warda stressed that the Christians bound to stay
are not just those who cannot afford to leave—on the contrary, he cites a good
number of affluent families who are determined to remain in Iraq, be it in
Kurdistan or Iraq proper. A good number
of them have already started successful businesses in Erbil. A clear sign of
confidence in this future for the local Church, the archbishop has established
the Catholic University of Erbil and fundraising for the institution brought
him to the US.
Leaving aside the intractable enmity between Shiites and
Sunnis—and the growing tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia—Archbishop
Warda said the biggest obstacle in the way of long-term security for Christians
and other minorities is Islamic radicalism. “Islam needs reform and, unlike
Christian violence that was committed o misinterpretation of Scripture,” he
said, “there is a call to violence in the Koran—and that needs addressing.”
It will be a task for courageous Muslim leaders, he suggested, and “maybe, just maybe, Christians can lend them a hand.” Surely,
the study of the Koran and Islamic tradition will figure prominently at the new
Catholic University of Erbil.