ST GEORGE’S Anglican Church in Baghdad suffered “severe” damage on Easter morning when a bomb exploded near its compound, the Chaplain, Canon Andrew White, has disclosed.
In a letter to friends of the church, Canon White said that he and a group of parishioners were preparing for an early eucharist when they heard an explosion. This was followed by a second blast several minutes later.
The church compound is on Haifa Street in Baghdad’s “Red Zone”, close to the Iranian embassy, which is thought to have been the bombers’ main target. “We will need several thousand dollars just to repair the windows,” Canon White said. “As for the [church’s] structure, I just don’t know.”
British Embassy staff were unable to attend Easter worship at the church, but the local Governor visited Canon White as a gesture of support. “He visited our clinic and viewed our kindergarten and hall that he is funding,” Canon White said.
The desperate plight of Iraqi Christians was underlined in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Iraq’s Forgotten Conflict, presented by Edward Stourton on Tuesday evening. The programme disclosed that around 200,000 Christians are thought to have fled the country since the American-led invasion in 2003, and that Christians, who once formed three per cent of the population, now constitute about half of all Iraqi refugees.
The interviewees included Canon White and Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church. The Archbishop emphasised that Christians, formerly viewed with tolerance by most Muslims, are now seen as fifth-columnists because of the war. The perception had been underlined by the often heavy-handed tactics of incoming American Evangelical missionaries.
The broader ramifications of the conflict were underlined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also warned that the end of Christianity in the Middle East was a distinct possibility, “and one that appals me”. “Ill-judged rhetoric about opposing Islamic power” meant that centuries of fruitful coexistence between Muslims and Christians had been “wiped out” around the region, Dr Williams said. He was deeply concerned for the position of Christians in Egypt, Algeria, and Pakistan.
Dr Williams spoke of a “double bind” for the Western powers. Overt support for Christians could only serve to confirm suspicions about their supposedly alien status. The most effective strategy for the West was to support moderate Muslims committed to pluralism, Dr Williams said.