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Iraqi Christians’ most urgent needs according to a Chaldean priest

by Bashar M. Warda, CSsR*

Iraq (For the full story, go to Asia News) As a result of ongoing violence, persecution and the forced exodus of Christians, Churches are re-structuring their pastoral activities to cope with new challenges that range from spiritual assistance, help to the poor and fighting corruption. Christian leaders must make a common front in dealing with the state, international coalition forces and terrorism.
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.

· 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.

· 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 programs 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 organizationally 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 programs 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.