A year after the attack which left 58 Christians dead in Baghdad, the faithful in Iraq’s capital city continue to be scared of fresh violence.
“Living in Iraq means living in fear. There’s no feeling safe and during the last two or three weeks the situation has got worse, because of tensions among political parties,” said Fr. Amir Jaje, Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad and Vicar to the Arab World.
He made his statement to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the charity’s international headquarters in Konigstein, Germany.
Fr. Amir said that all Iraqis are living in fear, adding that when a country is shaken by political tensions “minorities suffer the worst consequences.”
He said that police stationed outside churches have failed to reassure the faithful, as it is believed extremists have infiltrated congregations.
Anxieties increased in Baghdad as the first anniversary approached of the October 31st attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in which 58 died, including Fr. Jaje’s cousin, Fr. Wasim Sabieh.
He said, “People attending the Mass [commemorating the attack on the Cathedral]were scared, because every time there’s political tension, the extremists exploit it to cause violence and spread their message.”
He added that despite fear, the faith of Christians in Iraq has been strong and they have not fallen into despair.
Fr. Jaje said, “Our hope is like a small candle still burning in a dark tunnel. And I believe that we will not lose this hope.”
The Dominicans are working with the Muslim community to establish a new university where Christians and Muslims would study together.
“The next five or six years are going to be crucial to determine if Christians will stay in the country.”
According to the priest’s estimates, up to half of the Christians living in Baghdad before the fall of Saddam Hussein have since left the country.
He said: “They are still leaving. The ones who could afford it already moved to Europe or USA.”
“The second choice for them was nearer countries like Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan.”
“The third choice was Northern Iraq, but many of those who left are coming back because they can’t find work or can’t get accustomed to the Kurdish language.”
In order to stem the tide of those leaving Iraq, the Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad said that people need security, housing and jobs.
Fr. Jaje said, “Our religious order has created a fund for the poor that we use to help families who have no money to live.”
The Dominicans plan to launch projects to help people find employment and a place to live.
He said, “If people can barely survive, how can we ask them to stay in Iraq?”
The Dominicans also have a fund to help sick children who need treatment.
Fr. Jaje expressed his gratitude to Aid to the Church in Need for the support it had given the order in its work in Iraq’s capital.
He said, “As the Superior of the Dominican Order in Baghdad and Vicar to the Arab World, I really want to thank ACN’s benefactors whose aid is vital to maintain the presence of Dominicans in Iraq.”
“With a simple gesture, they express their deep humanity and their faith. They will always be in our prayers.”