02/21/2007, 00.00
IRAQ

Church not giving in amid attacks and kidnappings

by Marta Allevato
An interview with Mgr Jacques Isaac, Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and rector of Babel College: hardships will not kill the Church, every day we live the Passion of Christ but dying with him also means resurrecting with him. Masses are crowded and so are catechism and pre-marriage courses. He mentioned the support of the pope, who “prays for Iraq every day”.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Today more than ever, for Christians in Iraq, preparing for Easter means “experiencing the Passion of Jesus and in so doing, nourishing the certainty of the Resurrection,” Mgr Jacques Isaac told AsiaNews. Mgr Isaac is rector of Babel College, the only theological University in Iraq which is managed by the Chaldean Patriarchate. Babel College could be seen as a symbol of the tenacious will of the Iraqi Church “not to give in” to violence shattering the country, which has struck the Church many times in the past three years with attacks, kidnappings and killings of religious and lay people.

Mgr Isaac said: “Because of growing problems, the University recently transferred from Baghdad to Ankawa, in Kurdistan. Initially we had problems to find a place, but we could not allow ourselves to shut down. Babel is a source of hope and meeting point not only for the Chaldean Church but also for the Syrian-Orthodox and Assyrian Churches, and all other denominations present in Iraq.” For six years, students have been living and working together and it is “truly a concrete experience of ecumenism.” The bishop said: “The move was painful but now we are starting to see the positive aspects too: before the sixties, most Christians lived in the north. It was only later that they transferred to Baghdad and Mosul. Now many are returning and Babel College is resolved to render a cultural service to people in this region”, for example, through public seminars and conferences by university professors on the Bible or theology. Although they were inaugurated just over a month ago, Babel College and the Chaldean Major Seminary in Ankawa “already radiate a light of hope to the local community.” “The example of young seminarians, priests and consecrated lay people is much more effective than words,” said Mgr Isaac. In fact, the possibility is being mooted of “keeping Babel’s headquarters in Ankawa even when the situation returns to normal and opening another in Baghdad once again.”

Meanwhile, there are no plans, “not even in the distant future”, to transfer the Chaldean Patriarchate from the capital. “The difficulties in Baghdad are enormous but abandoning the faithful who remain and who courageously come in crowds for mass would be to deal a death blow to the entire community. It is now that we must remain, participating in their suffering, now there is need for us and if we must die with them, as priests and bishops, we are ready to do so,” declared Mgr Isaac.

The Chaldean bishop continued: “The situation is dangerous for everyone, not just for Christians, but difficulties have never killed the Church.” He brought examples: “The parishes in Baghdad are open. At Christmas, they were full and some masses were broadcast on state television. Catechism for First Holy Communion is well attended, as are pre-marriage courses. Further, after the nationalization of schools under Saddam, now we have a private school too.” Mgr Isaac, who is also the auxiliary bishop for cultural affairs in Baghdad, said the war had not stopped the publication of journals and of new books or intellectual activities.

This year, Easter is not considered to be a high-risk time for attacks: “We have got used to it. All the year round, every time we go out of the house, we are aware that we may not return, but this cannot stop us from continuing to live.” ”Speaking about the Cross and Passion of Jesus Christ is one thing but living them is another,” said the bishop. “Us Christians in Iraq live the Cross every day and dying with Jesus also means resurrecting with him. Today more than ever, we can really understand the dimension of his Passion.”

On 14 February, after the general audience, Mgr Isaac, who is visiting Rome for a few days, met Benedict XVI and asked him to pray for peace in Iraq. And the pope replied: “I pray for Iraq every day.”

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