“Baghdad ha perduto la sua bellezza e non ne è rimasto che il nome.
Rispetto a ciò che essa era un tempo, prima che gli eventi la colpissero e gli occhi delle calamità si rivolgessero a lei, essa non è più che una traccia annullata, o una sembianza di emergente fantasma”
If Christians in the Middle East are going to be “honest” with their
Muslim dialogue partners, said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of
Irbil, Iraq, Muslims will have to acknowledge that the persecution of
Christians in the region did not start with the Islamic State’s rise to
power in 2014.
“We experienced this not for the last four years, but 1,400 years,”
Archbishop Warda said during a Feb. 15 speech at Georgetown University
in Washington, sponsored by the Religious Freedom Research Project of
the university’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.
Christians are partly to blame, too, in the dialogue, according to
Archbishop Warda. “We did not push back against the recurring periods of
terrorism that inflicted cruel pain upon our ancestors,” he said. He
added that Christianity also needs to return to a “pre-Constantine
vision” of the church, recalling Jesus’ words shortly before his
crucifixion: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Given the scope of the Islamic State’s campaign to erase Christians
and all non-Muslims from the territories it had controlled prior to a
counteroffensive that decimated its ranks and holdings, “there is
nothing left but to speak plainly,” he said. “When there is nothing left
to lose, it is very liberating.”
Archbishop Warda added, “We object that one faith has now the right
to kill another. There needs to be a change and a correction within
He said the typical Muslim response to Islamic State’s atrocities —
declared genocide by the U.S. Department of State in 2016 — falls along
the line of “ISIS does not represent Islam,” but rarely goes further,
with no acknowledgment of past mistreatment of Christians or an
expression of remorse for them.
“Post-ISIS, when ISIS has shaken the conscience of the world, and
shaken the conscience of the Muslim majority world as well,” Archbishop
Warda said, much of Islam “defines you as infidels.”
“In the Middle East, we have moved from fear to terror to horror,” he
said. “Where next? … Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have
He noted, “We have been hearing courageous words from some Islamic
leaders. It should be encouraged,” although he cautioned, “we should not
be passive, or simply pray for the best.”
With about $3 million donated by Italian Catholics, Archbishop Warda
started the Catholic University of Irbil in 2015. It has 82 students,
including four Muslims, in undergraduate degree programs in the arts and
sciences. While there are other Catholic colleges in the Middle East,
he said he thought it was important that this school have the name
“Catholic” in its title.
The wait for
reconstruction money continues. Archbishop Warda said the money is
needed now, but governments just continue to “talk” rather than
distribute funds. He took note of a March 14-15 conference in the region
sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. “They will
probably just talk more” then, he added. “Maybe by late 2020” will the
region finally see the promised funds, he guessed aloud.
“Your policy assessments have life-or-death consequences,” the
archbishop said, asking for material support and not charitable aid.
“Help us develop sustainable ways of life and income in Iraq,” he added,
with the most critical needs being education and health.
For the estimated 200,000 or so Christians remaining in Iraq — down
from about 1.5 million in 2003, when the United States launched the Iraq
War — “ours is a missionary role, to give a witness to the truth of
Christ,” Archbishop Warda said. “I am not speaking of conversion. I am
speaking of the fundamental truth … that we can show in a moment of
Archbishop Warda said, “So many of our people have fled, and so few
of us are left,” but he added he does not begrudge families for making
the decision to live elsewhere permanently for their safety or that of
their children. “While it is true that our numbers are small, the number
of Apostles were also small.”