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As His Flock Is Murdered and Dispersed, the Vicar of Baghdad Says Christians Are Worse Off Now than Under Saddam or Perhaps Ever In History60 Minutes” Sunday

ICC Note

“Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians – probably ever in history,”

By Dan Wooding

Thursday, November 29, 2007 Iraq (ANS) — Canon Andrew White is one of the great heroes of the church. He’s an Anglican clergyman in Baghdad , who has seen his flock murdered and forced into exile by Muslim extremists, and he says Christians there are worse off now than under Saddam’s rule and are probably suffering more than any time in history.

Now millions of viewers in the United States can see White, known as

the Vicar of Baghdad, as he speaks to Scott Pelley for a segment on the persecution of Christians in Iraq to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday Dec. 2 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network.

“There’s no comparison between Iraq now and [under Saddam],” says White. “Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians – probably ever in history,” he tells Pelley, referring to the nearly 2,000 years of Christian history in the area. That’s because White estimates that 90 percent of Iraq ’s Christians, once thought to number over a million, have either fled or have been murdered by Islamic extremists during the religious civil war.

That includes his own church leaders and most of the men of his parish. “They are mainly killed. Some are kidnapped,” says White. “Here in this church, all of my leadership were originally taken and killed.” Their bodies were never recovered. “This is one of the problems. I regularly do funerals here, but it’s not easy to get the bodies,” White tells Pelley.

A CBS news release says that White invited 60 MINUTES cameras to an underground Baghdad service for what’s left of his congregation, mostly the old, the ill and those who cannot afford to flee. The purge is almost complete in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad , once a Christian stronghold, and the recent surge of American troops also has stemmed some of the violence.

“I don’t see a lot of [Christian murder victims] anymore,” says Army Col. Rick Gibbs. “But when we first arrived, we saw lots of that. It would not surprise my soldiers to walk down a street on patrol and see three or four bodies lying in the street with a bullet behind their head,” says Gibbs.

At the height of the violence, churches were bombed and the Army did not guard them, Gibbs says. “[Christians] feel that if we are overtly protecting the churches, that someone underground covertly will come in and murder the Christians because they are collaborating with the U.S. forces,” Gibbs tells Pelley.

It all started after the invasion, says a young Christian who did not want to be identified. “[Muslim extremists] were telling us that Christians were against Islam, that we’re infidels, that women shouldn’t drive and that a woman who doesn’t wear a head scarf should get her head cut off,” he says. “I thought, ‘What are we, going back to the Middle Ages?’”

It’s all happening because religion can go wrong, says White. “When religion goes wrong, it kills others. [Islam] has [gone wrong] and in the past, Christianity has gone wrong,” he says.

What makes Canon Andrew White life and ministry so extraordinary and inspiring is that he suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic, long-term condition that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. MS is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself, targeting the cells, tissues, and organs. Because of his condition, White is forced to walk with a stick.

Over recent years, Andrew White has acted as negotiator in many areas of conflict, including the siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the bloody riots between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria . He has been awarded several significant prizes for his peace work, including the International Sternberg prize and the ICCJ Prize for Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations.

Andrew is married to Caroline, who is a lawyer, and has two young sons.