An archbishop in Iraq is calling plans for a new Catholic hospital and university in the country “symbols of hope” in an area rife with tension and violence.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in northern Iraq announced to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the two building projects – planned for Ankawa, a suburb of the Kurdish capital, Erbil – passed a critical phase on Jan. 31 when the regional government granted land for the structures.
A 322,917 square-foot site has been allocated for the university and is near a 86,111-square-foot plot intended for the 100-bed hospital which will have eight operating rooms and a medical wing.
Archbishop Warda said in a Feb. 1 interview that a fundraising campaign was necessary before the building work could begin. He expressed hope that the the two institutions would open within the next couple years.
“The plans we have been developing over the past few months are symbols of hope for the Christian presence in our country,” he said.
Archbishop Warda noted that a primary motivation behind the projects was to provide jobs and other opportunities for local Christians and stave off their plummeting decline in the country. In the last decade, the population of Christians has fallen in Iraq from more than 800,000 to barely 200,000.
Recent violence – such as the attack at the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad by Islamic militants that left more than 50 dead and over 70 wounded on Oct. 31 – have added to the growing unease felt by Christians in the area.
“We do not want Christians to leave Iraq,” the archbishop underscored. “It is clear that our society here needs schools, universities and hospitals and this provides us with an opportunity to encourage the Christians to build a future for themselves here.”
Archbishop Warda said both initiatives would provide jobs, training and other opportunities for thousands of Christians fleeing to Kurdistan from the religious persecution in Baghdad and Mosul.
The hospital and the university will be run and owned by the Archdiocese of Erbil but Archbishop Warda underscored that both would be open to all individuals, regardless of faith affiliation.