25 October 2016
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, serves the thousands of displaced people who fled ISIS. He is calling for both prayers and planning to help support those who are suffering in his homeland, as they look to a future after ISIS. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
It is never easy being a bishop and tending to a large and diverse flock. The mission is made even more challenging if you are a bishop in a time of war, displacement and persecution.
That is the story of Iraq’s Archbishop Bashar Warda. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop visited our offices this week and his presence served to remind us of the heroic work so many men and women are undertaking, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.
The past two years have been tumultuous. He described in 2015 some of what his people were facing:
Archbishop Warda said that 620 families were initially housed on the grounds of the cathedral in Erbil where he lived.
“People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night,” Archbishop Warda said. “In the end, they would tell you, ‘Thank God we are alive. Nushkur Allah. We thank God for everything.’ That’s the phrase they end with. That’s strengthening, in a way...
...He tried to encourage the persecuted Christians whom he had welcomed to Erbil, within his heart he would frequently “quarrel with God.”
“I don’t understand what he is doing when I look at what has happened in the region,” Archbishop Warda said. “I quarrel with him every day.”
However, the arguments take place within his intimate relationship with God, one that, with the help of grace, withstands even the previously unimaginable challenges to his faith that he has faced over the past year.
“Before going to sleep, I usually hand all my crises, wishes, thoughts and sadness to him, so I can at least have some rest,” Archbishop Warda said. “The next day, I usually wake up with his providence that I would never dream about.”
This week, visiting New York, he reflected on all that had happened and spoke about looking beyond persecution, and planning for the future:
“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”
And he encouraged everyone to raise awareness about what is happening back in his homeland:
“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians are in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”
Pray for the people in Erbil and throughout the region. At this moment, as Iraqi soldiers launch their offensive to try and retake Mosul from ISIS, there are growing concerns about what could become a massive humanitarian crisis. To lend your support to these people in their moment of need, visit this page.