Bishop Andreas Abouna, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad’s Chaldean Archdiocese, told the United Kingdom's branch of Aid to the Church in Need that the Church in Iraq is in serious trouble and is in desperate need of hope, as more and more Christians flee the county.
Bishop Abouna said that Christians in Iraq, who continue to suffer from the violence and fighting which afflicts the country, are fleeing in great numbers. While nearly 1.2 million Christians resided in the primarily Muslim country before the war, an estimated half of them, or 600,000 Christians to date, have sought refuge elsewhere.
In Baghdad itself, the bishop said, up to 75 percent of Christians have left, some of whom have remained in the country and sought refuge in the safer northern areas of Iraq. Many of those who have remained are simply too old or infirm to move.
“What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq,” the bishop worried. “When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous – dangerous for the future of the Church in Iraq.” Abouna fears that Christians will never return from neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, and Syria.
The bishop said that while Christians have not been targeted any more than other groups, life in Iraq is extremely difficult for all right now.
“Everyone is asking: when will the violence stop? They want to rest. They cannot live like this – everyday there are these terrible things.”
Bishop Abouna pointed out the additional difficulties that the clergy must go through to do their work, “it is not easy for them,” he said. “When they want to travel to other parts of Baghdad, they have to be very careful. They are doing their best to contact the families and bring them to church.”
The bishop said that people need the Church to help bring them hope in the midst of the seemingly endless political difficulties. Despite the ratification of a new constitution, in which Bishop Abouna pushed to have protection for Christians included, as well as the recent elections, the process seems to be failing, the bishop said. The developments are good in theory, he said, but have yet to yield concrete results as regards increased stability.
“When you lose everything, the only thing that keeps you going is hope. The country is rich but lacking stability. Once the stability returns, the country will rise up again.”