Auxiliary Bishop Andraos Abouna of Baghdad died Tuesday morning in a hospital in Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq. The bishop was 67 years old and had suffered from kidney problems.
According to the Italian bishops' news agency SIR, Bishop Abouna underwent kidney surgery two months ago. He seemed to have recovered, however he had a relapse last week and was admitted to the hospital on Monday.
“His death is a great loss for the Iraqi Church,” Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar of Baghdad, told SIR. “Msgr. Abouna was in charge of youth pastoral care. Now, let’s pray for the Lord to give us a new pastor.”
Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly will preside at a funeral for Bishop Abouna, scheduled for Tuesday evening at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Ankawa, near Erbil.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic charity that supports the faithful in places of persecution and difficulty, spoke with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who recalled how Bishop Abouna was “always smiling, even in very difficult situations.”
“He was a very close friend not just to me but to so many others,” Archbishop Warda said.
“Bishop Abouna was a very good and humble man, very open-minded,” added Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk. “He really took care of each one of his priests, and he always worked for the unity of the Church. I hope he can pray for us from heaven.”
Born in 1943 in the northern Iraqi village of Bedar, Bishop Abouna entered the seminary at age 14 and was ordained a priest for the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1966.
He served as a parish priest in Iraq for 24 years, and was then moved to London, where he led the Chaldean and Syrian-Catholic Mission in England for 11 years.
On Novermber 11, 2002, he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad. Shortly after his return to Iraq, Saddam Hussein was overthrown, and Baghdad became a hotbed of extreme violence.
Bishop Abouna led his people through the difficult times that followed. Bomb attacks on churches and threats of violence against non-Muslims led many to leave the city, but the bishop remained.
Despite increasing health problems, he continued to hold youth events when possible. He also responded to the priest shortage by serving at Our Lady of the Assumption parish.
ACN had helped pay for Bishop Abouna's health care. The organization had also worked with him to relocate St. Peter's Seminary away from Baghdad when conditions became unsafe.
“I had the pleasure to meet Bishop Abouna many times during my visits to northern Iraq,” said Marie-Ange Siebrecht, ACN projects coordinator for Iraq. “He was a very spiritual person and had great concern for the priests and seminarians he was in charge of.”
“Especially in Baghdad he played a great role among the priests to try to show them that there is a future in their country.”