An Archbishop and Sister from Iraq and Syria issued a stark warning to UK Parliamentarians that Christians in the region are still suffering persecution and massive poverty.
At an event in Portcullis House, organised yesterday (5 July) by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for the 2022 International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, and Sister Annie Demerjian of Aleppo, Syria, described the precarious position of Christians in the region.
Archbishop Warda said: “There are still people being persecuted because of their faith and thankfully ACN didn’t accept the political correctness and said, ‘Yes, Christians are being persecuted’.”
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop went on to thank ACN for the schools the charity has helped build, saying that investment in education for Iraqi Christians has helped fight the genocide undertaken by Daesh (ISIS).
He said: “If our children lose their schools, that’s the genocide, wiping out the past, the present and the future. So we hold to the future. Thank you to ACN for being the voice for the persecuted Christians.”
In response to a question, Archbishop Warda said the Church does not restrict its support only to Christians. “We help anyone who comes to us” he said. He then pointed out that a university scholarship scheme established by Pope Francis, was open to students of all faiths: Muslims and Yazidis as well as Christians.
Sister Annie, who has ministered to suffering Christians in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, said that the faithful are now struggling more than during the war. She said: “Now the situation is worse than during the time of war and as our nuncio Cardinal Zenari said, 90 percent of the population is under the poverty line.
“We are heading for a humanitarian disaster and yet the world is not listening and is not hearing. The media is not hearing about Syria, it is not interested anymore.”
Sister Annie went on to describe a traumatic incident that affected one family. She said: “One day a bomb fell near the house of my brother. After a while, my niece went to see what is happening and was shocked to see a father carrying his daughter without her head. From the shock she couldn’t talk anymore.
She added: “My niece later said to her mum: ‘Mum, will they put an artificial head on like they do for legs and hands?’… For me this is a persecution, when we take the childhood of our children.”
The event in Portcullis House, which is part of the parliamentary estate, was chaired by Dr Lisa Cameron, MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow.
Also speaking was Bishop William Kenney, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Birmingham, who placed the persecution of Christians in a wider context of violence.
He said: “Pope Francis thinks World War Three has already happened but it has been happening in lots of different places. There are over 40 major conflict in the world.”
Archbishop Warda yesterday morning spoke at a plenary session of the Ministerial to around 600 delegates on how to promote religious freedom in the face of global challenges, while this morning (6th July) Sister Annie spoke at an event about women and girls.
She said: “Violence against women was, and still is, significant in Syria.”
As part of the Ministerial fringe events, Aid to the Church in Need also co-sponsored an event on Gender-Specific Persecution with Open Doors and joined the Freedom Declared Foundation’s roundtable on the impact of COVID-19 on religious liberty.