01/04/2007, 00.00
IRAQ
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Theological university and seminary leave unsafe Baghdad and head north

Babel College and the Chaldean major seminary were officially transferred to Kurdistan after months of closure following kidnappings and threats leveled at Christians. The decision had already been in the pipeline for some time: between September and December, the rector and vice-rector of the seminary were kidnapped in Baghdad.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – From Dora, the traditional Christian neighbourhood in Baghdad, to the eastern part of the Iraqi capital and finally to Kurdistan: this is the “required route” that some eminent Christian institutions in Iraq have been forced to follow to survive. The kidnapping of priests, attacks and threats have pushed the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad to transfer Babel College – the only Christian theological university in the country – and St Peter’s major seminary close to Erbil.

 

The move had been in the pipeline for some time – the buildings that will host these institutions in Ankawa had already been identified and rented – but the decision to transfer was made official only today, 4 January. It was the bishop of Erbil, Mgr Rabban al Qas, who informed AsiaNews. He is hosting the students in the bishop’s house until works are completed.

 

From Dora to Ankawa, the “forced move” of Babel College and the major seminary started on 1 August 2004. On that day, the Chaldean Church of St Peter and St Paul near the major seminary was one of four churches in the capital hit simultaneously by car bombs. Fifteen people were killed and the church and seminary were damaged. Since then, as some diaspora Iraqis recall in their blog, Baghdad Hope, Christians no longer felt safe and started to move – first slowly and then at an increasingly frenetic pace – to safer neighbourhoods like Baghdad Jadida (New Baghdad). The major seminary has been closed since the beginning of summer. In September, the vice-rector, Fr Salem Basel Yaldo, was kidnapped when he ventured out of the building, which he rarely did. In December, the rector was taken, Fr Samy Al Raiys, and kept in captivity for a week. For months, Babel College was also closed and the reopening of its courses was postponed for the umpteenth time after the kidnapping of Fr Samy who was supposed to preside over the imminent inauguration of the academic year. The rector disappeared as he was going to the Church of Mar Khorkhis (St George), Baghdad Jadida, where the college and seminary were supposed to be shifted to. But the excessive danger led to a drastic decision: move to the north of the country.

 

This transfer together with the inauguration in mid-November of the Syrian-Catholic seminary in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) reveals that the north of Iraq, under Kurdish control, is currently the only safe place for Iraqi Christians.

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