People in Iraq are terrified that the war in the Holy Land will engulf the region, according to a leading archbishop, who is calling on governments around the world to work to bring peace.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda said he fears an escalation of the conflict could trigger another wave of migration, with devastating consequences for the Christian community which has already been decimated by war and extreme poverty.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, the Archbishop of Erbil, in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said: “People [in Iraq] are really afraid that the violence will spread beyond Gaza.”
He said: “Speaking on behalf of all the people – especially the minorities, who tend to suffer more than others, especially in conflict situations – please God, no more war.”
The archbishop added: “We are asking all the leaders and all those who have influence to calm the situation.”
He said: “God forbid that this war goes beyond what we have been seeing of late. The settling of old scores would endanger the social cohesion in the whole region. The situation in Syria is not settled, nor has it settled in Iraq.”
Archbishop Warda said his people were on tenterhooks and some were still uncertain about staying in the country following the recent violence and persecution carried out by Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda and other extremist militant groups.
Saying that “the wounds of ISIS have yet to heal,” the archbishop added: “The violence could trigger yet more migration. The fear is still there. It is not as if the war we had was 30 years ago. It was less than 10 years ago.”
Before 2002, Iraq was home to more than 1.2 million Christians, but persecution, violence and poverty prompted mass migration of Christians and Archbishop Warda said there were now about 150,000 left.
He added: “For us as a Church, if you do not have the people around you what’s the point of having any structures? We are not like an NGO. We are dependent on the presence of the people.”
The archbishop went on to thank ACN and other organisations for providing emergency and pastoral help, especially during the crisis years climaxing with the Daesh invasion of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and the nearby Nineveh Plains, an ancient homeland for Christians.
He singled out in particular the charity’s current support for the Pope Francis Scholarship Programme, sponsoring students at the Catholic University of Erbil, the institute Archbishop Warda founded.
Archbishop Warda gave his interview during a visit to London where he preached at Westminster Abbey during an All Saints Day service recalling the martyrs of the Church.
In his homily, the archbishop recalled the sacrifice of so many faithful during the years of Al Qaeda, Daesh (ISIS) and other militants and praised the heroism of martyrs, including his close friend Father Ragheed Ganni, who was shot dead in June 2007 for refusing to close his church in Mosul.