2010-05-24 13:47:50

Diocese Celebrates Pope's Appointment of New Bishop to Erbil, Iraq

(24 May 2010) After almost five years without a bishop, the Chaldean priests and faithful of Erbil, Northern Iraq, were celebrating today as Pope Benedict XVI appointed Redemptorist Priest, Father Bashar Warda bishop of the Diocese.

“First of All I thank God, for this new challenge in my life and in the life of so many friends brothers and sisters here in the Church in Iraq and also in Ankawa”, says Fr Warda speaking shortly after his appointment was announced. “I have realised that the call is demanding in a way, because the Church in Iraq is facing lots of challenges in various aspects”.

Father Bashar Warda, was born in Baghdad in 1969. In 1981 he entered the minor seminary and later the Chaldean Patriarchal Seminary of St. Peter at Dora, near Baghdad. In 1994, following a visit to Iraq of the then Redemptorists' Superior General, Father Juan Lasso de la Vega, Father Bashar decided to enter the Congregation. of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), completing his novitiate studies and religious education in Dundalk in Ireland.

In 1999 he obtained a doctorate in moral theology at the Catholic University of Louvain and September 15, 2001 he made his perpetual vows. In 2001 he was appointed Director of the Cultural Centre of Babel College (Erbil, Iraq), of which is also General Secretary and Lecturer.

Up until his appointment as bishop he held the post of Director of the Chaldean Patriarchal Seminary in Ankawa, Erbil and professor of moral theology of the local Institute of Religious Studies.

The diocese, which had been without a bishop since 2005, is in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Since the outbreak of war in Iraq it has become the place of refuge for thousands of persecuted Christians from the south.

“The diocese in 2005 was a diocese of almost 2,500 families. Today it is one of the biggest Christian communities gathered in one place throughout Iraq”, explains the newly appointed bishop. “In the city of Ankawa alone you have 7,200 Christian families, half of them from Mosul and Baghdad. A process of reconciliation to the new situation and culture is needed, not just for those who have found refuge here but also for the original community, which has had to face rapid change over a very short period. We need not just to maintain our Christianity here, but also to be missionary in our environment”.

This call to mission, he adds is essential to stem the tide of young Iraqi Christians leaving the country. “I think if we think of the social message of the Church, I really believe that the Church could do a lot in the social context, healthcare and education for example, and not just for Iraqi Christians but also for the wider Iraqi community. The people need to see honest, active, caring people committed to the future of the country. This is part of the message of the Church and I believe the Church has an essential part to play in this. There is no point in telling our young people to come home, unless we have something concrete to offer them, something in which they can actively take part. And what better place to start than in the diocese that enjoys at least, a very secure status compared to other diocese, to encourage our young people, to tell them there are places for you to work and be active in your community”.

Fr. Rayan Attos is a parish priest of Mar Qardakh Church in the diocese of Erbil, and lecturer at Babel College, he says that Pope Benedict’s appointment of the new bishop is another example of the Spirit working for the future of his Church and his country; “I was not very sure of my future as a young priest who was studying and teaching at the same time, working in the parish without a bishop for five years, it was very hard to see a way forward, particularly given the difficult situation that we are living in the Church in Erbil and throughout Iraq. This was a sign of hope for me, and really the power of the Spirit which we celebrated yesterday. In this year dedicated to priests I thank God and the Holy Father from the bottom of my heart, I now see a future and this is important”.

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