Last weekend I had the privilege of hosting a brother bishop, Bashar Warda, the Archbishop of Arbil, in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. What an address!
Yes, you heard me right: A Catholic bishop from Iraq? But isn’t that embattled country all Islamic?
No! Iraq is the home to an ancient Christian community, probably traceable back to Pentecost! So, by the way, are Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel.
True, they are small Christian communities. However, given what they’ve gone through the last two millennia, it’s a shock there’s even one believer left!
Some of the worst persecution they’ve faced is coming right now. Our government has called it genocide: a systematic, coordinated, fanatical drive to extinguish Christians in the Middle East (and other areas of the world, like African countries, parts of India, China, and Asia).
My brave brother, Archbishop Warda, had already departed from his beloved Kurdistan for visits here in the United States when the rescue military operation to retake Mosul from the dreaded forces of ISIS commenced.
Mosul, and the historic plains of Ur, had been home to many Christians for millennia. Two years ago, the cutthroats drove them out at swordpoint. 110,000 of them walked sixty miles to a sanctuary in Erbil, where they were heroically welcomed by Archbishop Warda and his own small but loving Christian community.
You might remember that I wrote about all of this last spring, when I had the honor, as chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), to visit Kurdistan.
That’s how I met Archbishop Warda. For almost a week, we visited his churches, the schools, clinics, and camps he had put up for the refugees. There we saw courageous priests, sisters, seminarians, deacons, and people caring for the “Internally Displaced Persons”—IDPs—in the spirit of the Bible, of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy...and of Jesus.
That’s why I was so happy to embrace him here in New York. All weekend, he was on the phone, on the internet, so eager to hear of the mission to reclaim Mosul. Those IDPs, while so grateful for the welcome given them by the little Christian family in Erbil, only want to go back home.
When I asked Archbishop Warda what we could do to help, I figured he’d understandably seek funds for those camps, clinics, and schools, as well as advocacy on our part for the plight of our co-religionists in the Middle East. And, he did.
But what he most urged was—and he used the word Pope St. John Paul II made famous, on the very feast of the great Pope last Saturday—solidarity! He repeated it again at Sunday morning Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
What would mean the world to him and his beleaguered people was the assurance that they were not forgotten, that we know of them and what they were going through, that we love them and pray with and for them. They’re on the cross with Jesus, he observed, and it would be a consolation if they at least knew that we were with them on Calvary, in company with our sorrowful Mother Mary, the beloved disciple, and the holy women.
Can I promise him that?