Ankawa (AsiaNews) – Growing violence, the climate of persecution felt across the whole of Iraq but especially among Christians, as well as the forced exodus of thousands of families have seriously compromised the Church’s pastoral mission which in some places has disappeared altogether as a result of churches closing or priests being abducted or forced abroad because of the lack of security. In light of the situation, Fr Bashar Warda, a Redemptorist and the newly-appointed rector of the Major Chaldean Seminary of St Peter looks at what Christians in Iraq and the international community can do.
How are we to find a way out of this crisis that surrounds us as Iraqis in general and Christians in particular? So far those concerned have not formulated any shared vision that could provide opportunities for a decent life to the Iraqis. Since everybody looks upon the Church as a voice of justice, it is frustrating to see everyone trying to get as many social, economic, political privileges as possible for themselves or their group without seriously thinking that the safety and dignity of others is a responsibility that we all share.
Everyone is waiting for the Church to define its mission and vision and play its role in repairing the damages politicians, profiteers, newcomers and decision makers have done. Above all, it should show what violates Iraqis’ dignity and freedom, express its message of solidarity and open the gates of social justice for all in a regime based on citizenship and equality.
Is there a possibility to see what pastoral vision the Church of Iraq can have? Here is what I think are possible bases for the development of a pastoral vision that responds to the needs of a large section of the Christian community:
· Church leaders have an opportunity to take a unified stance in their relation to one another, the state, international coalition forces as well the so-called insurgents on the basis of genuine loyalty to Iraq. The state has an obligation to live up to its commitment to all its citizens, bearing in mind that Christians are the original inhabitants of Iraq. There is an obvious failure on the part of the government to make good on its promise to Iraqis in maintaining law and order and public services.
· As a token of Iraqi Christian concern for the security and integrity of their country, Church leaders should call for a work programme involving coalition forces in Iraq that would define the latter’s mission and speed up the process of rehabilitating and training Iraqi forces to maintain security and defend its international borders as is expected of any sovereign state.
· Church leaders should likewise endeavour to stand against administrative and financial corruption which is harming the welfare of Iraqi citizens. Corruption today is a form of destructive terrorism like military operations that claim scores of lives and is destroying the future of the people. This can highlight the role of the Church as a true voice in limiting or putting an end to such practices.
· If anyone tried to overlook or neglect the victims of sectarian and political violence, then it is the duty of the Church to support their families. Through its committees and councils, we would like to see the Church take the lead in defending those whose rights have been violated, whose freedom has been suppressed, and whose life has been ended. This should be done by asking the government to draw up victims’ lists and provide them with assistance. This way the Church could show its loving care for those who have been denied the opportunity for a decent life as a result of futile and unjustified sectarian and political violence.
· The Church should take advantage of the better security conditions that prevail in some cities and villages in order to develop pastoral programmes that are spiritually, culturally and socially important. The pastoral activity of the Church today should not be limited to the Eucharist, but should include guidance and support. It is especially important to improve its work in the educational field.
· As thousands of Christians flee their homes on an almost daily basis, the Church is facing a new pastoral challenge. People from the most affected areas have to cope with unemployment, lack of public services, high cost of living, a destroyed economy, and drastically reduce pastoral activities. For these and other issues, the Church is not organisationally prepared.
· The Church odes however enjoy good relations both within and outside Iraq that it could use to improve the terrible situation in some regions in the areas of education, health care and public services. There are many qualified people who could play an important role working for boards and other agencies involved in reconstruction and development under the transparent supervision of economic and administrative experts.
· An emergency aid fund for poor families in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra should be established under the supervision of an elected committee comprised of the heads of Churches on the basis of coordinated work procedures and transparent programmes that aim to give life to the Gospel and show solidarity to the neediest.
* Fr Bashar Warda, Redemptorist, is the newly-appointed rector of the Chaldean Major Seminary of St Peter. He was recently transferred from Baghdad to Ankawa (Kurdistan) for security reasons.