.- Bishop Andreas Abouna, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, has told Aid to the Church in Need that a recent attack on a church in his diocese demonstrates the daily fear that his people live in and the faith that they continue to display.
Bishop Abouna described how a parish community spent the night consoling their traumatised parish priest after a rocket was fired at his church. Father Jamil Nissan narrowly escaped with his life when the bomb smashed through a wall at the Church of the Ascension, in the east of Baghdad about 10 days ago. The church hall was damaged but nobody was hurt. As news spread of the disaster, parishioners rushed to the church and stayed with the priest until morning in an attempt to calm his nerves.
Abouna praised the courage and faith of his people at a “desperate and very tense” time. The prelate said that he is now to the point of “expecting” attacks at any time.
“Of course, the people here are frightened,” he added, “but there is something stronger than their fear - it is their faith. When the people were told about the attack on the church, they telephoned the priest. They were very aware that the priest was alone, that as a human being he was very afraid. They wanted to stay with him.”
According to Bishop Abouna, nobody has admitted responsibility for the attack, but he is convinced that it was a deliberate assault on the Christian community.
The bishop said the incident was part of a growing cycle of violence, which the government is trying to stem with “very severe” curfews. “People are desperate,” he stated. “They have waited three years for peace and they are still waiting. This makes people very sad; they feel that there is no solution for them.”
“We always ask why the churches are targeted,” the Bishop lamented, “They are places of peace and prayer - just somewhere for Christians to come together and be happy - nothing more than that.”
Bishop Abouna also responded to reports that Christians were being targeted as alleged sympathisers with so-called ‘crusader’ forces, saying: “People here understand that we are Christians. They know that this does not mean we are one and the same as the West.”