Iraqi Archbishop Fears War in Holy Land Could Spread to Entire Region

Archbishop Warda said that only 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq, out of the 1.2 million who lived there before 2002.

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Iraq.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Iraq. (photo: ACN)

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda recently expressed his concern to the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the war being fought between Israel and Hamas could spread throughout the Middle East.

Archbishop Warda, a native of Iraq and the archbishop of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, fears that a possible escalation in the conflict will end up unleashing a wave of migration in the Holy Land, which, he explained, would be devastating for the Christian community of the region, seriously affected by violence and poverty.

“Speaking on behalf of all the people — especially the minorities, who tend to suffer more than others, especially in conflict situations — please God, no more war,” Archbishop Warda said, while asking all the leaders of the region to “calm the situation.”

“God forbid that this war goes beyond what we have been seeing of late. The settling of old scores would endanger the social cohesion in the whole region. The situation in Syria is not settled, nor has it settled in Iraq,” he noted.

The archbishop said Christians in Iraq are very apprehensive and that some were still uncertain about staying in the country following the recent violence and persecution carried out by Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda, and other extremist militant groups.

He reminded that “the wounds of ISIS have yet to heal” and also warned that “the violence could trigger yet more migration. The fear is still there. It is not as if the war we had was 30 years ago. It was less than 10 years ago.”

Archbishop Warda said that only 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq, out of the 1.2 million who lived there before 2002.

“For us as a Church, if you do not have the people around you, what’s the point of having any structures? We are not like an NGO [nongovernmental organization]. We are dependent on the presence of the people,” he pointed out.

The prelate expressed his appreciation for ACN and other organizations during the most difficult years of the war in the country, especially the support of the Pope Francis Scholarship program sponsoring students at the Catholic University of Erbil, an institution founded by Warda.

The archbishop is currently in London, from where he celebrated a Mass on All Saints’ Day in Westminster Abbey.

In his homily, he recalled the sacrifice of so many faithful during the persecution launched by Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations in Iraq and the Middle East, especially that of his close friend, Father Ragheed Ganni, who was murdered by Islamists in 2007 for refusing to close his church in Mosul in northern Iraq.