The Pascha 2011 newsletter of the Society is now available. Here is the chairman’s foreword.
Dear Members and Friends,
A few weeks after the end of the first Gulf War, I was invited by the Catholic Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon to an Inter-Faith conference in Baghdad to try to get sanctions lifted against medical supplies to Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime. Father Roman Cholij of the Ukrainian Catholic Exarchate in London arranged the complicated travel arrangements, which included a flight to Athens and another flight to war-torn Beirut, arriving in the early hours of the morning. We then flew on to
Amman, Jordan’s capital, where we arrived before dawn with nowhere to stay. Fortunately a priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem came to our aid and accommodated us in a building belonging to the Patriarchate.
After a visit to the “Red Rose City half as old as time” – Petra – we made our way by bus across the desert towards Baghdad. Unfortunately we were severely delayed and arrived very late at the Iraqui frontier, where unknown to us two Cardinals had been waiting to greet us – Cardinal Patriarch Raphael of the Chaldeans and Cardinal Cassidy of the Unity Council in Rome. We eventually arrived in the blazing heat of dawn and were soon settled into our hotel.
The next day the conference began and we met Cardinal Patriarch Raphael and Archbishop Emmanuel his co-adjutor bishop, who on the death of Raphael was brought out of retirement to succeed him as Patriarch Emmanuel III of the Chaldeans. Patriarch Raphael gave us a solemn warning that we Westerners did not realize how fragile was the relationship of the Christians of Iraq with the regime of Saddam Hussein and that any interference by the West should take this into consideration.
Saddam was a Sunni Moslem and the Sunnis were more tolerant to Christians than the Shi’ites. “If Saddam is overthrown,” warned the Patriarch, “then Christians will get their throats cut”. I had witnessed the fact that Christians had a place in Iraqui society even under Saddam. His Foreign Secretary was a Chaldean Catholic; and when I went to collect a visa at the Iraq Legation in London housed in the Jordanian Embassy, the visa was issued by a young Chaldean woman. When I asked her why she was allowed such a position, she replied that “We Christians are a minority in Iraq and therefore the regime does not fear us”. The Chaldean cathedral in Baghdad had been given an organ, made in Norway, by Saddam. I noted that at several of the Christian services we attended in Baghdad that young Christians were often accompanied by young Moslem friends. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein kept a peace of sorts, but a peace nevertheless, between the Moslems and the Christians.
After the disastrous second Gulf War that fragile peace was destroyed, as the late Patriarch Raphael had prophesied it would be. It has left behind the massacre of the Chaldeans and Assyrians and many are fleeing Iraq for the safety of Syria and Jordan, or further afield if they can obtain visas.
The Chaldean community in exile, particularly in London, has been devastated by the loss of relatives and friends, and this coming soon after the sudden death in Iraq of Bishop Abouna, their former beloved parish priest in London for many years.
Similarly, the Copts of Egypt have been massacred by Islamic fanatics, leaving many dead or badly injured. To show solidarity with the Christians of the Middle East the Sheikh of the Kilburn Islamic community came with some of his elders to the end of the Divine Liturgy of the Melkite Greek Catholics at St. Barnabas’, Pimlico, shortly before Christmas.
The rioting in Tunisia and the burning of a young man in Egypt could spark a revolution in that country; and who knows what form of government might emerge, which could be fanatically anti-Christian insisting on Sharia Law? There could be conflagration throughout the whole of the Middle East.
These are very unsettling times for Christians in the Middle East, who should be constantly in our prayers and thoughts in the New Year of Our Lord 2011.
With all good wishes and prayers,