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Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad Andreas Abouna would like to see Christians from the U.S. come to the north of Iraq to meet the Christians there. He says it is important that they realize they have not been forgotten.
BY Greg Watts
Bishop Andreas Abouna
is a Chaldean auxiliary bishop in Baghdad.
He was ordained a priest in 1966 and
ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
In 2005, along with other bishops,
he expressed concern about parts of a draft constitution that might lead to
discrimination against non-Muslims in Iraq.
The Chaldean Church is an Eastern
When he visited London in August,
Register correspondent Greg Watts interviewed the bishop to find out what life
is like for Christians in Iraq.
What is the current situation in
The situation is much better. Over
the last three months it has been improving.
Are there any signs of
Christians returning to Baghdad?
Some Christians have come back. Not
many, but at least it is a sign that things are changing. At the same time,
many Iraqis want to leave. And many Christians have left Baghdad, either for
the Kurdish area in the north or for other countries, such as Syria and Jordan.
What is daily life like?
It’s much better than before. You
can go anywhere. But, of course, there are a lot of checkpoints, controlled by
the Iraqi army and police. This means that you have delays when you travel, but
it makes it safer.
How serious are divisions
between different groups in the city?
We need reconciliation between
Iraqis. There is a lack of trust among many Iraqis. Unless this happens,
nothing will change. We need to be united again. The borders are still open and
groups from different countries come in and cause problems.
How visible are the American
soldiers in Baghdad?
The Americans only get involved if
the Iraqi army needs them, but they carry out patrols across the city.
Are kidnappings still a big problem?
Kidnappings still happen but have
gone down by around 70%.
Has the mood of people improved,
along with the decrease in general violence?
This has also decreased. And there
are not as many car bombings.
The shops are now open again. People
can walk in the streets until late at night in some areas, but in other parts
of the city they can’t.
Electricity is still one of our
biggest problems. We only get a couple of hours a day. It’s terrible in the
summer, because it gets so hot.
More people are coming to Mass, but
some are still afraid to go out because of the security situation. But at
Easter and Christmas the churches in Baghdad were packed. The Christians in
Iraq are more united than before because of what they have been through.
What specific things is the
Our priests are helping people to
find housing and providing financial and other support. And we have set up a
number of computer courses at churches in the city. This year, we are organizing
a series of events to celebrate the Year of St. Paul.
In Baghdad we have opened three
Chaldean primary schools. The school in New Baghdad has both Christian and
Muslim pupils. The Church believes education is the key to Iraq’s future.
How did the killing of
Archbishop Rahho in Mosul earlier this year affect the Christian community?
Everyone was shocked by his death.
But not just the Christians. Many Muslims in Mosul were also shocked. He was a
good man and very popular with them.
What sort of relations do you
have with local Muslims?
We have good relations with the
Muslim leaders. They come to visit us, especially at Christmas and Easter, and
we visit their mosques. And young Christians and Muslims study and work
together. They just see themselves as Iraqis. We have lived for centuries
What are the major needs for
Christians in Baghdad at the moment?
They need better security. They can
find jobs, but sometimes they are afraid to travel because of the fear of
bombings and violence.
We hold meetings in churches for
students. We discuss the issues affecting them and also have lectures.
During World Youth Day in Sydney,
around 1,500 young people met in the Latin church in Baghdad. Young people can
visit each other until about 6 p.m., but after that it’s not safe to be out.
What are relations like with
We are very united. Because of the
situation, we work together more closely than before. Each month, Chaldean,
Syrian, Latin, Assyrian and Orthodox Church leaders meet, and we discuss any
issues affecting the Christian community.
How many students are training
for the priesthood?
At the moment, we have 26 men in our
seminary in Erbil in the north of Iraq. We have both Chaldeans and Syrians. We
have a new seminary opening in September, thanks to the support of Sarkis
Aghajan Mamendu, the Kurdish regional government’s minister for finance and the
economy. A second seminary, for Syrian Catholics, has opened in Qaraqosh.
As part of their training,
seminarians visit families in the Christian villages so that they can see what
their needs are. This is very important. And this month, they are all going to
visit Rome to give them an insight into the global Church.
How do you view the future for
the Church in Iraq?
It is hard to look to the future,
given the instability of the situation. Life is difficult even for the
Christians in the north. They have security but find it difficult to get jobs.
So what can Christians in the
United States do to support the Church in Iraq?
We need the support of Christians in
the U.S.A., both through prayer and other ways. I would like to see Christians
from the U.S. and other countries come to the north of Iraq to meet the
Christians there. It’s very important that the Christians in Iraq realize that
they have not been forgotten.
Greg Watts is based in London.