Iraq archbishop calls for prayers after tragic wedding fire

Iraq wedding fire A mourner holds up an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the funeral on Sept. 27, 2023, of victims who were killed when a fire ripped through a crowded wedding hall in the mainly Christian northern city of Qaraqosh, Iraq, also known as Hamdaniyah. At least 100 people were killed, officials said, pointing to indoor fireworks as the likely cause for the blaze that sparked a panicked stampede for the exits. | Credit: ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images

A fire that ripped through a wedding venue in northern Iraq has killed more than 100 people in a majority-Christian town still rebuilding after years of ISIS occupation. 

The hall in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains burned Tuesday night during a Syriac Catholic wedding celebration. Witnesses and civil defense officials told the BBC that the fire was sparked, with hundreds of guests present, by fireworks set off as the bride and groom danced.

Archbishop Bashar Warda, who leads the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, said in a Sept. 27 statement to EWTN News that “patriarchs, bishops, and priests from all faiths gathered today in Qaraqosh to bury those who had perished.”

“No words can adequately describe the mourning of those bringing their loved ones to their final resting places in their ancient land. What was to be a time of joy has now turned into a whole community into mourning and deep shock,” the archbishop, for years an outspoken advocate for the Middle East’s persecuted Christian minority, told EWTN News. 

“I ask for your prayers for those souls we have lost and the severely injured. I ask you to pray for the Syriac community and their families within Iraq and the diaspora.”

One Catholic priest lost 10 of his family members in the fire, Warda said. The injured have reportedly been transferred to hospitals across the Nineveh Plains.

“Many are going from house to house to comfort the mourning. It will sadly not be the first day of funerals as dozens are missing, dozens are severely injured presently receiving hospital treatment for first-degree burns and the inhalation of toxic fumes,” Warda continued. 

While Iraq is predominantly Muslim, the Nineveh Plains are historically Christian and are home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, stretching back more than 1,600 years. The Christian population has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, especially due to the terror wrought by the so-called Islamic State. 

Qaraquosh, some 20 miles southeast of the larger city of Mosul, remains overwhelmingly Catholic despite nearly all Christians being forced to flee under ISIS occupation beginning in 2014; the town was liberated two years later. Pope Francis visited the town of 60,000 during the last full day of his 2021 visit to Iraq. 

Warda said the tragedy has “brought the people of Iraq together again with the [Sunni Muslims] canceling their celebrations of the birth of the Prophet Mohammad.”

“We have statements of condolences and support from the Shia [Muslim] community with the governments of Iraq and Kurdistan announcing three days of mourning,” he noted. 

Iraqi authorities are investigating the disaster. The country’s interior minister said the wedding hall lacked the required “safety and security specifications” and that those responsible would “get their fair punishment,” the BBC reported. 

The U.S. said on Wednesday it was ready to talk to the Iraqi government about any assistance it could offer, Reuters reported. 

This is a developing story.

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