05/21/2010, 00.00
IRAQ

Financial crisis forces Patriarchate to rent out the courtyards of churches in Baghdad

Layla Yousif Rahema
Economic aid from Kurdistan interrupted, collection money halved due to emigration of the faithful, Mgr. Warduni sets out the Chaldean Churches’ plan "to help pay the salaries of priests and catechists".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Facing a critical economic situation, to the point where it can’t even pay its’ priest’s salaries, the Chaldean Church in Iraq is obliged to rent a private space adjacent to its parish in Baghdad. Branded as "dangerous lies" rumours of the sale of the church of Our Lady of Sorrows (the first cathedral of Iraq, where the patriarchs are buried, of priceless historical value,-ed), the Auxiliary Bishop of the capital. Shlemon Warduni explains to AsiaNews how the Church in Iraq is coping with this crisis.

A number of factors explain the current difficulties facing the Chaldean Patriarchate. "For about 10 months, the finance minister of Kurdistan, Sargis Agajan, halted all funding to the Christian community, which in recent years had ensured a stable income. Not only that: "With the massive migration of our people - says the bishop - the revenue coming from church collections have halved, while the government gives us absolutely no help."

Thus, a Patriarchate committee - composed of four lay people, of which Warduni is supervisor with Card. Emmanuel III Delly in charge - is studying plans to utilise Church property to generate revenue to help pay the salaries of priests, to cover the cost of running parishes and catechesis (such as the transport of children and books). This emphasizes the bishop of Baghdad, is an important point: "The Protestants are taking our young people away and say they are evangelizing in our place, we must safeguard our children and our catechism."

For now, it has been decided to "rent the land adjacent to the former cathedral of Baghdad (outside the walls of the church itself) for 15 years, to a private party who will build stores there." At the end of the contract everything will return to the Patriarchate. The area surrounding "Our Lady of Sorrows" is the first Christian neighbourhood of Baghdad, "the Haqid Nasara" (in English "the meeting place of Christians"). Here, until the '70s, all Christian denominations in the country were focused. Now it has become a very commercial area filled with markets and shops, the heart of the city, where the value of buildings and land has increased a lot. For logistical reasons - the church is situated in an alley that cannot be accessed in a car - the Chaldean cathedral was transferred some years ago to the Church of St Joseph in the neighbourhood of Karada. Despite the security problems faced by the Christians in the capital, "Our Lady of Sorrows" is still open: "A priest has also been appointed to say mass on some occasions" says Bishop. Warduni.

"The diocese of Baghdad, -  the auxiliary bishop concludes, -  is studying and working on projects that can bring economic help to the other dioceses of Iraq."

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