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Father and superfather

by
05 October 2010

Pat Ashworth on a priestwho sees in children a channel of the miraculous

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Suffer the Children: Dispatches to and from the front line
Andrew White
Continuum £9.99
(978-1-84706-374-8)
Church Times Bookshop £9

THERE is a telling observation at the heart of Andrew White’s new book, a slender and tender tribute to the children who have inspired him, and whose hidden power, he says, is the power of God. It is the almost casual reflection, “I suppose that in a sense, I seem to have lived my life backwards.”

The book has new insights into the child­hood of a boy who wanted only to be with elderly friends; was “attached to my briefcase and was always very smart”; and who acknowledges having “no close friends of my own age”, and doing “none of the things that were expected of the young”.

He delights in the company of children, and in almost being a child himself: there has always been a childlike quality to his unwavering belief that the mess that is peace-making in the Middle East really can be sorted out. The children of St George’s, Baghdad, call him “Daddy”, and are proprietary about who gets to escort him when he steps from his armour-plated car.

“They see me not just as their priest, but as a kind of superfather,” White says, adding with characteristic honesty, “Of course I am not a super father and never have been. I feel guilty about being away from my own sons so much.”

And while Josiah, his elder son, says, “We know that God will always look after him, so we never worry,” there is poignancy in White’s own comment, “Josiah often asks me whether I love him as much as the children in Iraq, and lately he actually told me: ‘You love them more than me.’ And that upset me a lot.”

The children, from Iraq, the Holy Land, and a supportive church community in the United States, tell their own stories. “We only have our Lord Jesus and Father Andrew,” Kristin says; while David, a street child who speaks Kurdish, Aramaic, Arabic, English, and Spanish, tells everyone that White has saved his life three times. “One day I know I will be a preacher like Daddy,” he says with piety.

The theology is pivotal: that children are channels of the miraculous. Society teaches that they are merely adults-in-waiting, but faith “tells us rather that these little people have a role of their own already and insists that unless we ourselves possess certain of their traits, we won’t even be able to enter God’s kingdom”.

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