Churches bursting at the seams in Northern Iraq
According to a local Catholic leader, the migration of Christians to northern Iraq from other parts of the country is leading to both new growth for the Church, as well as new challenges.
The Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Matti Warda made his report to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The fact that the security situation in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan is better had already prompted 12,000 Christian families from Baghdad, Mosul and other Iraqi cities to settle in the Archdiocese of Erbil over the past few years, he continued.
"In Baghdad and elsewhere, people still don't know whether they'll be able to return home in the evenings because they may fall victim to bomb blasts, murders and abductions," Archbishop Warda lamented.
For the Catholic Church this has meant that, for example, Church parishes in Baghdad and Mosul have had to be shut down because people have moved away, while in Erbil tents have had to be set up because the churches are too small.
The Archbishop said, "Although we don't have the appropriate infrastructure to deal with such a growth in the Catholic communities, the people continue to come.”
“In their home parishes they have become accustomed to taking part every day in prayers, services or catechesis. They don't give up.”
“We must therefore urgently build new churches and premises for catechesis and other activities of Church life."
The Archbishop described the situation in Iraq as a mixture of "historical, economic, social and political problems," although, he said, the situation was too complex to cover them all completely.
"If I try to explain today what is happening, the reality tomorrow may be completely different," he continued.
The war had split the society and caused "unresolved conflicts from the past to re-emerge." The fact that Iraq was surrounded by countries which were also suffering from many conflicts had resulted in a situation where Iraq "was often not fighting its own wars."
ACN supports a number of projects in the Archdiocese of Erbil, including construction of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ankawa, a district of Erbil, and a number of catechistic projects.