Update 18 March 2014 and US speaking engagements

with the Popovici family in Northern Iraq

Dear friends,

Life has been even more crazy than normal. Having spent the past month in Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Kurdistan I was supposed to now be on my way to the US via the UK but I could not get on the flight from Erbil to Turkey. We arrived with an hour to spare but they would not let us on the plane. So I am still in Erbil waiting to leave in the early hours of the morning.

The work has been to complex and intense involving a variety Middle East issues, many of which are in reality so sensitive that I cannot mention. The fact is that we are working intensively on many of the reconciliation issues.

We met recently with the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq in Cyprus. Once again there are many issues we are dealing with unique to some of our colleagues. There is an intense commitment to try and prevent violence from ripping the country further apart. Added to the intensity of the work there has been the major issue of not having a visa to Baghdad therefore at the moment I have had to be in Erbil in the North of Iraq and my colleagues from Baghdad have had to come up to me. Added to the general complexities of our work there has been some very negative coverage of our work with the Jews in Iraqi media, so we very much need your prayers. Please pray that we do get out of Iraq in the morning and can make our way to out meetings in Lexington, Kentucky in the USA.

The programme for our US visit is below for your information. Do come if you are in the area.

Blessings,

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad
Andrew

Kentucky

March 21: Asbury Seminary, Wilmore,  Estes Chapel 7:00pm

March 22: GCF, Vineyard Church, Wilmore 7:00pm

March 23: Apostles Anglican Church, Lexington 8:30 and 11:00

March 23: Cornerstone Church of Lexington 5:00pm

March 24: All Nations UMC, Nicholasville 7:00pm

March 25: Christian Student Fellowship, UK campus 7:00pm

Indiana

Mar 26: Cross Tabernacle 7PM

Mar 27: Bread of Life Ministries 7PM

Mar 28: Morning speaking engagement at Indiana State University

Mar 28: Creekside Church Regional Service 7PM

Mar 29: Morning speaking engagement at Bethel Ministry School

Mar 29: Church of Praise Evening Service 6PM

Mar 30: Hoosier Harvest Church 10AM

Update from Canada

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Greetings from Canada. I am sorry it is a while since the last update was sent but we have just been so busy whilst in the US and Canada. In the US Paul and I were in New York and New Jersey before going to Nashville, Tennessee for just over a week. We spoke at countless numbers of Churches and Universities. The programme was organised by FRRME America thus was overseen by General Greer who did a truly outstanding job.

180

Our time in Canada is equally as busy working with Government and Churches as well as a large number of television interviews. The constant discussion is not just Iraq but the whole of the Middle East at the present time. All who we have encountered have been very supportive and what is clear is that we have a very important message to share. That G-d has called us to work for peace in one of the most dangerous areas in the world to take risks for the sake of the Prince of Peace. All the time He and his Glory are there with us.

Lina and Rimox

Lina and Rimox

This trip has been particularly blessed by having Lina and Rimox with me and we simply would not be able to do this work without them.

Grace, Peace and Blessings,

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad
Andrew

Hope & Tragedy

Hope & Tragedy  - post Iftar meeting 27 July 2013

In the past few days we have again seen the way that hope and tragedy go hand-in-hand in this country.  We were able to hold a large iftar followed by a reconciliation meeting on Saturday night with many of the key Sheikhs from both the Sunni and Shia communities, as well as our own Bishop Michael from Cyprus. Many of these leaders were new to these peace and reconciliation meetings and were eager to be involved in this process. The meeting was a success and saw the Sunni and Shia leaders praying together and then discussing together how they can help stop the violence. There was a very firm commitment to join in the reconciliation work, and to attend future meetings.

Hope & Tragedy  - post Iftar meeting 27 July 2013

From the hope of that meeting we then moved on to this morning when there were at least 10 car bombs set off in Baghdad alone. The total amount of casualties is as yet unknown, but the targets seem to be primarily Shia areas. This is the type of sectarianism that is trying to rip this country apart. This violence also follows a major prison break last week. Roughly 500 prisoners escaped from two different prisons, and some reports say 4 top al-Qaeda leaders escaped as well. Whether or not they were directly involved in planning the bombings today has yet to be proven, but it is consistent with the goals of al-Qaeda to attack Shia areas. Despite this danger and turmoil we persevere on with the work of reconciliation and peace. We are very hopefully that the coming months will see some major conferences, which will lead to tangible change here.

With every blessing,

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad
Andrew

Bishop Colin Bennetts

Greetings and Blessings from Baghdad,

The violence this week in Iraq has been terrible. There have been scores killed in just the first few nights of Ramadan. These attacks are made more effective because of the numbers of people who gather each evening in cafes and restaurants across the country to break their fast. The other attacks are targeting Sunni and Shia Mosques where worshipers are gathering for prayers. This type of violence is clearly trying to play on sectarian tensions and fear. The situation is becoming quite dire, and the need for peace is more apparent than ever. We continue to persevere in our calling to try and make peace. We ask for your continued prayers that this would become a reality.

Bishop-Colin-BennettsIt is also with great sadness that we report the death of our dear Bishop Colin Bennetts, whom I first started walking the long and difficult road of Reconciliation with. He suffered much recently, but now he is in glory and we ask your prayers for his dear wife Veronica and his children.

Bishop Colin Bennets was not just an outstanding Bishop he was a totally inspirational leader. A person who I sincerely loved, it was both a joy and a great privilege to have worked for such a visionary man of G-d. We would regularly talk about the issue of being prepared to take risks rather than take care. Taking risks and not care became my motto but was also something which was very much in the character of Bishop Colin. I admit that even in appointing me as his international director, he took a certain amount of risk but throughout our years of working together not once did we ever have any conflict between us. I admit on certain occasions I stated I wanted to do things that were both risky and expensive, however not once did Bishop Colin prevent me from going ahead with these proposals.

Within my time working for him, we built a multi million pound school in Bethlehem, held the first major inter religious summit of Jews, Christians and Muslims from Israel and Palestine and furthermore reopened the church here in Baghdad, establishing a major clinic and school which resulted in a church of over 6000 people, though over a thousand have been killed in the past few years. Most people would have considered these ventures far too risky but not Bishop Colin.

The very first overseas trip I took with him was indeed here to Iraq. It was then that I learnt the depth and extent of Bishop Colin’s skills. He could relate equally well to the religious leaders or evil dictators. He was always a person of great wisdom, faith and spirituality. It did not matter how complex the diplomatic crisis was that we were working in, he always understood that the solution needed to be diplomatic, political and spiritual.

I have very fond memories of the diverse trips we made together. They included, Germany and America as well as the areas of great conflict in both the Middle East and Africa.

One occasion that I will never forget was whilst driving through the bush in Africa. We discussed many things about the nature of our work and the Cathedral. We got round to the point of discussing who should be the new dean of the cathedral and it was here in the middle of the bush that we decided that this position would be best served by John Irving. We then came on to discuss the nature of our growing reconciliation work. It was clear that if our work were to continue to develop I would need a co-director. Bishop Colin asked me if I could choose anybody for this position who would it be? I answered without any doubt that the only person I thought would be suitable was the vicar of Southan. When we eventually returned to England Bishop Colin approach the vicar of Southan and asked him if he was willing to take on the role as co-director. He agreed and so Justin Welbey was appointed to his first senior position in the Church of England. Could it be that whilst travelling through the bush in a Jeep that Bishop Colin chose the future Archbishop of Canterbury?

With Bishop Colin there was never any doubt about his wisdom, integrity and foresight. I do not know of anybody who has served our Lord like he did. He has left his mark on our Lord’s church and it will not be forgotten. We know without a doubt that he will rest in peace and rise in glory.

With every blessing,

Andrew,

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad
Andrew

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s tribute to Bishop Colin

Obituary in The Telegraph 14 July 2013

Sunni and Shia Islam – Division and Violence

This is a really long post so only read it if you are really interested in this issue.

A large amount of my work now days is concerned with reconciliation between Shia (Arabic: شيعة‎, Shīʿah) and Sunnī (Classical Arabic: سُنِّي /ˈsunniː/) muslims. The conflict between the two has been widely publicized in the media. Yet the vast majority of people do not even know what the differences are between these two are. I therefore want to go into significant detail about these two major strands of Islam so that people understand the fundamentals of this issue.

In Christian terms the difference can be seen like the difference between Catholic and Protestant – two strands with the same creeds. They used to kill each other regularly not so long ago and sadly we have seen similar violence and murder between Sunni and Shia. Both are Muslims who fundamentally share the same Islamic beliefs. Their differences are not primarily theological but historical. They date back to the very beginning of Islam regarding who would take over from Mohammed. Over the years several different practices and have developed and these in turn are seen as carrying certain spiritual implications.

The separation dates back to the death of Mohamed. Who was going to take over from him? There were those who thought that the leadership of Islam should be placed under the controls of the companions of Mohamed who were proven capable leaders. There were twelve people who were seen as the right leader team and they became known as the Caliphs. Those who held to this position gave birth to the group that became known as the Sunnis. They where originally lead by one called Abu Bakr. Whom along with Imar, Aisha does the Shea reject. As is much of they’re etching about Mohamed. The Sunni see themselves as orthodox traditional Muslims. This diversity results in a considerable difference in practice on prayer, pilgrimage and fasting. The word Sunni comes from “Hal al–Sunna” which literally means the people of the tradition. They see that their tradition is closer to Mohamed and the prophets mentioned in the Koran. Though Mohamed seen as the final prophet is seen as the ultimate and there are not seen as key people such as Imam Ali and Husain to the Shea. Such leaders after Mohammed are all seen as being merely temporal. The Sunni have also traditionally come under state control, whilst in reality in countries such as Iraq and Iran the Shea clerics are the real ultimate authority.

This results in a major difference in practice between Sunni and Shia. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni (about 85%) therefore Shia are a minority but the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. The major division is about the issue of hereditary leadership passed through the hereditary line from Mohammed through his son in law Imam Ali.

Thus the Shia believe in a hereditary leadership believing the rule of Allah passed through a particular line. Ultimate in their beliefs is in the historic Imams. They are seen as being sinless in their very essence, with total authority coming from Allah. The historic Imam’s are venerated like saints and their tombs are venerated as shrines. Pilgrimage to these shrines is a very regular occurrence. This group did not look to the original three caliphs but to Imam Ali. He was both the Cousin and Son in Law of Mohamed. He was seen as the rightful heir of Mohamed and those who follow this tradition are the Shia. A great significance is based on the whole issue of linage to Imam Ali. Anybody in his line is called a Sayed (Sir) and to this day all the Imams of this lineage wear a black rather than white turban.

Shia Islam is not known about much in the West. They are often referred to as Shia Militia and known as the militants who control Iran and have carried out negative activity in Lebanon. The fact is that the majority of Shia are a peaceful and wonderful people. Our relationship to them is particularly very close. Shia Islam is very hierarchical, orders are passed down from the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani based in Najaf a very holy Shia City in the South of Iraq where Imam Ali is buried and has his shrine. The grand Ayatollah is surrounded by the Majoria the other four Grand Ayatollah’s who are next in line to Ali Al Sistani.

When there was a particular onslaught against the Christians in Iraq the Shia offered the Christians sanctuary and protection. The general feeling amongst the Christians is that the Shia will protect them. Most of the recent attacks on Christians have been from a very small section of the Sunni.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation between Shia and Sunni is key in Iraq. The extremists are in both groups. Their divide dates back over 1000 years but it is greater than ever. Much of our work has been bringing these two strands of Islam that have been so much against each other because of their years of difference. It is the leaders of these groups that listened to each other over two years and became best friends with each other. It is this group that we have remained close friends of. They trust us and we love and give to them and at one level it is working.

The fact is that much if the violence is caused by the Sunni extremists. Many of these are linked to the Whabbi and Salafi movements that come out of Saudi Arabia. Included in this group is Al Qaida and those connected to them. At a previous meeting of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq after a major massacre of Christians a joint fatwa (religious injunction) was issued by both the Shia and Sunni together. This was a major sign of reconciliation and it was done to protect the minorities from murder. The Fatwa worked immediately and no Christian has been killed from that day. This is a wonderful example of how reconciliation saves lives.

I get very frustrated when I hear that what is simply needed is advocacy with governments, diplomats and foreign ministries. These people can do nothing about such crisis but they can put pressure on governments to support organizations like ours to fund their engagement on such work. We were very fortunate the Danish Government came up quickly with all the funds to support our engagement. Providing all the security in the world would not provide the security needed. What made the difference was that the very people we were dealing new the people committing the violence. They could put pressure on their people to observe the Fatwa and stop their evil ways. What came out of this meeting was complex intelligence so I cannot share it all here but we then managed to have a very productive meeting between all the relevant coalition ambassadors and our delegates. One thing I can mention is how these terrorist cells are training and using children to be suicide bombers.

An organization exists called the “Birds of Paradise”. This is an evil Sunni terrorist group that teaches children between the ages of 7 and 12 to be suicide bombers. The belief being that they are less likely to be caught by security. The effect is horrendous. Many innocent people are killed and maimed. This group is very closely linked to Al Qaida and is very closely linked to the terrorism we are seeing today.

The Battle for Power (the Sunni Loss of Power)

Much more could be written on the cause of terrorism but ultimately it can be summed up in two words Loss and Power. Wherever there is terrorism ultimately you will find that the perpetrators feel that they have been involved in serious loss. As regards the Sunni terrorists they feel that since 2003 they have experienced major loss in all the follow areas:

  • Property
  • Business
  • Money
  • Political Influence
  • and ultimately Power

We may be able to see that ultimately the events are caused by the process of debathfication but the effects are the loss of all of the above. The result is the ultimate loss of power. Ultimately the ruling minority has lost their power because of democracy. The result is that there is a minority within the minority who feel that the only way to maintain their power is to fight for it. Even if they cannot regain their power they can at least show their level of force within their minority group by causing a breakdown in the power of the majority.

The Battle for Power (the Shia Loss of Power)

Whilst the Shia may be the majority they also have a great sense of loss resulting in an increasing sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia. The loss caused has been life with so many of their community killed. This has in turn meant that many families have lost their income because they have lost their sole earner. Then there is a major religious dimension to this loss because so many of their places of worship have suffered major destruction resulting once again in loss. The loss between the two is what results in what has become known as religious sectarianism. Both Sunni and Shia feel that they have suffered major loss. Though 80% of the terrorist activity is carried out by members of the Sunni Community there are Shia involved in revenge attacks.

To add to the sectarian divide there have been several outrageous Sunni religious declarations and sermons on TV stating that at first the Shia should be killed and only then the Jews and the Christians.

The Reconciliation Process

The reconciliation process take place at two main levels. One is at the High Level with the most senior religious leaders and the other is at the grassroots levels with community religious leaders. There is also a key relation to the key political leaders. From the Christian side this includes COR member Yonadam Kanna and Minister Sargon Slewa. From the Muslim side Vice President Huzaie who is Shia with Sheik Khalid Al Mullah who is Sunni.

The grassroots work amongst the community religious leaders is involved directly in reducing violence. It has been very successful in doing this by preventing their community from getting involved in violent sections of working with their community such as Al Qaida and the birds of paradise.

The fact is that this process only works if the most senior religious leaders are behind it. That is why it is most essential that there are regular meetings of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq. It is these leader’s that have the authority to influence those who are below them and prevent them and their people from becoming involved in violent activity.

High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq has not met recently and we see a major growth in sectarianism. It is essential that it does so at least twice a year. This work was originally totally supported by the US DOD. After political change this support stopped. We then saw a major rise in violence; in particular we saw a major onslaught against the Christian community with 58 people being killed in one Syrian Catholic service. It was after this terrible attack that the Danes came to the rescue. The first ever-joint Iraqi Sunni Shia Fatwa was produced which totally condemned all violence and murder of minorities. We did not expect the results of this Fatwa to be immediate but they were and the onslaught against the Christians stopped in it entirety.

It is essential that the grassroots work continues costing only about $10,000 a month. This money has come jointly from the British Embassy and the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East of which I am the president. As regards the International meetings of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq, we have seen how these are essential to truly bring about a major reduction in violence. These meetings are considerably more expensive and one average have cost $250,000 per meeting. These meeting have happened at various points since 2003 and have had major positive effect. It is hoped that several supporters can be found to enable this essential process.

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad
Andrew White

‘Father, Forgive’ now available online from FRRME

[tcp_list id=”post_father_forgive”]

Canon Andrew’s new book, “Father, Forgive” is now available online from FRRME.

Why Iraq?

Well my treatment in Holland has begun. It is hard and rather difficult and all I can do apart from have treatment is rest on my bed. Which means a lot more time to write. So here is todays sample.

Why Iraq?

It is now 14 year since I first started to work in Iraq. Initially in 1998 I was mainly working on issues of reconciliation between the various religious and political leaders and their various equivalents in the West. In the early days I remember very clearly taking them to see Billy Graham in America and the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. At the very heart of my work in Baghdad is the work of reconciliation.

For me this work is very much centered on and in the Middle East. It all began though when I was preparing for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. It began with working on a restoration of a broken relationship between Jews and Christians amongst students at Cambridge that story is told in depth in The Vicar of Baghdad but my real work in reconciliation at an international level began when I was appointed director of the International Centre for Reconciliation in 1998. Here I was heading up one of the foremost centres for reconciliation in the world. The role of Coventry Cathedral in reconciliation is truly exceptional and begun 58 years before I arrived there on the night of the 14th November 1940.

The Second World War was well underway but never to date had a city been completely destroyed. On this night the 14th November 1940 things changed. The City of Coventry in the heart of England was totally destroyed. It gave birth to the term “COVENTRIED” which means to be totally destroyed. Along with Coventry’s destruction was the total obliteration of its medieval Cathedral of St Michael. Named after the Arch Angel and great protector it was no more. Standing in the midst of the smoldering rubble the next morning the Cathedral’s leader at the time Provost Dick Howard took a piece of chalk and wrote on the sanctuary wall “FATHER FORGIVE’.

PEOPLE NOTICED HE WAS WRITING THE WORDS OF OUR LORD FROM THE CROSS. He did not write the words in full though which are “FATHER FORGIVE THEM THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”. People asked why these words were missing? The answer was simple it was the first line of what would become Coventry’s Litany of Reconciliation. “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of G-d”. We also need to be forgiven said the Provost. In this act he did not realize what he was doing. He was giving birth to one of the foremost ministries of reconciliation in the world today.

The altar of St Michael's Cathedral, CoventryIt was just days later that one of the Cathedral staff standing in the ruins of the Cathedral noticed that amongst the Cathedral rubble were the large medieval nails that had held the roof together. He took three nails and attached together. Thus gave birth to what became known around the world as the Coventry Cross of Nails. Now days all over the world you can find places of reconciliation where the Coventry Cross of Nails is also their symbol. As I go into our own church here in Baghdad there on the altar is the Coventry Cross of Nails in a piece of the bombed stonewall of the Cathedral. Each time I see the cross I remember that reconciliation is about mending that which is broken. Iraq is broken and here we are working at its restoration.

My work in Baghdad is very varied. Despite Iraq not being in the news much now it is still a total and utter war zone. Bomb barricades are everywhere and every few yards on the roads you are faced with military checkpoints.

Apart from being the Anglican Chaplain to Iraq which in reality is being the vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad. Here the Church includes far more that just church. Within our compound we have one of the largest clinics in Iraq. With four doctors, two dental surgeries, haematology and stem cell units, pharmacy, laboratory and X-ray unit. So this acts as a comprehensive health care centre and all treatment is free. It is very strange often being called to the clinic to insert intravenous lines when they have failed to canulate their patients. This takes me back to my pre ordained life when I worked in the field of anaesthesia – putting in intravenous lines for me is like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it. In addition to this we also have a very modern infants school and a major food relief program to help the many poor of our community, which is both Christians and Muslims.

I am involved in a large number of other Church related things. I am chaplain at the US Embassy and do services at the British Embassy. It is though my non-Christian work that is particularly high profile. It involves working on religious sectarianism. Bringing together those that have traditionally been enemies such as the Sunni and Shia Islamic leader. Though we work with those belonging to many other religious traditions as well. I this capacity I head up the High Council of Religious leaders in Iraq. The sad fact is that religion is very much tied up with violence. As Archbishop William Temple said in World War II “when religion goes wrong, it goes very wrong”. We cannot reject the very real role that religion plays in violence.

The vast majority of violence in Iraq is carried out by people who carry out their terrorism to justify their religious stance. If you examine the position of each group it is clear, they commit the violence because they have a profound sense of loss. The major leader of the of the Sunnis in Iraq who is a great man of peace who I work with continually is Sheikh Khalid. He has often said to me that 80% of the violence is carried out by people of his own tradition. It cannot be denied that the Sunni community has lost the most since the war in 2003. Saddam was a Sunni and since the war it cannot be denied that this group of people have lost a huge amount of money in de Bathification, property, industry, employment, but ultimately they have lost power! Once under Saddam they were the minority political leaders of the nation now it is the majority Shia who rule. They are therefore against the Shia majority and against any who are seen as being part of the warring group who led the war in 2003. This is the Americans, British and any other countries, which are seen as part of the original coalition.

The leaders of this terrorist movement are not even from Iraq, they are mainly from the surrounding Arab Nations and here are simply known as AQI (Al Qaeda Iraq). What they have done is work at getting Sunni Iraqis to support them and carry out much of the work on the ground. What is clear here is that you cannot buy people, you can only hire them. A typical example of this is how AQI got the support of many of the Sunnis living in the predominantly Sunni district of Al Anbar. They were paid by AQI and they provided them the support to carry out the worst of the suicide bombings. Then another group came along who needed them. This group was none other than the US Army who was offering more payment to join a group called the Sons of Iraq, and their job was to work for peace. It was whilst this group was functioning after 2007 that we saw a major fall in violence from its extreme from 2005 to the beginning of 2007. Since the US withdrawal in 2011 we have once again seen a steady increase in violence.

Of particular sadness was the formation of groups such as “the Birds of Paradise” around the Northern town of Kirkuk. This was a group of children aged between 9 and 13. These young children were trained to be suicide bombers because as children they were less likely to have to undergo intense security checks that would expose their evil intent. Have you heard that in recent weeks a new group has been established? This time the group is based in Hilla, the modern town of Babylon. The group called the “Fourth Brigade” is also made up of children but this time they are even younger aged from 7-13. Once again this group appears to be the work of AQI.

The main work of this group has not even begun yet but it is believed thatit will begin very soon after the imminent festival of Eid. Of particular concern this time is that those concerned are supposedly targeting Christians. Iraqi Christians are seen as being linked to the West. The fact is that there have been Christians in Iraq for more years than most other places in the world. It is an acknowledged fact that monotheistic religion began with the arrival of Jonah in Nineveh, followed by the work of the prophet Nahum. The people of this city were the evil Assyrians and they started to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Seven hundred years later somebody else turned up on the way to India – here he is much revered and simply known as Mar Thoma. He asked the people of Nineveh if they knew that the Messiah had come. They said that they did not, he told them and they believed. This man to us in the West is known as Doubting Thomas. To this very day, 2700 years after Jonah, most of the Christians in Iraq and my entire congregation are from the city of Nineveh. To this day they are known simply as the Assyrians, the bad people who became good.

It was on the last day of October in 2010 that everything changed for Christians in Iraq. AQI gunmen broke into the Syrian Catholic Church during a service and killed 59 people. What followed was over 2 months of massacring, killing and torturing of Christians.

For me what begun was intense engagement with the various religious leaders of Iraq. Engagement with the various key religious figures in Iraq. Of paramount importance was the engagement with the Sunni’s. Two weeks after the tragedy Sheik Khalid came and spoke in my church. He expressed his sadness and sorrow about what had happened and assured the people that they were a vital part of Iraq. Intensive negotiations continued to urgently get a meeting together to enable us to move forward condemning all violence towards minorities. It was the Danish Ambassador Gert Meinecle and his government that came to the rescue. By early January we took the various religious leaders to Copenhagen, we were joined by the Sunni and Shia Islamic leaders as well as those from three other minorities the Christians, Yazidees and Mandians.

Day and night we worked on the Fatwa (Islamic Religious Injunction) and Declaration not to permit violence against minorities. All night the Islamic leaders were on the phone making known to their contacts that there was a historic joint Sunni and Shia Fatwa forbidding the killing of minorities. The effect was immediate and very significant as attacks against Christians were stopped immediately.

Sadly a month later an attack killing a Christian family happened in Baghdad. This is what we were informed by the terrorists would indeed happen after a month if we did not discontinue working with the Islamic leaders. The whole way this has worked has just demonstrated how important this work is. The comments have been continuous by the Christians saying how different the situation is now. The vast majority did not know about the one attack in Jihad area of Baghdad where very few Christians live. Despite the Islamic Fatwa many Christians fled Iraq after these attacks.

The Danish meeting was a very quick response to the crisis and it did work in a way we never thought possible. We have continued having high-level meetings of Religious Leaders of Iraq, which are often out of country . But there have also been the development of grass roots work to take the message around the country at a lower level. This is aimed at the lower level Islamic leaders such as imams of local mosques and is based around different areas in Iraq. Whilst this work has been very successful there is now a very real concern as to what will happen now with increased violence and the establishment of groups such as the 4th Brigade in Hilla.

Iraq today is in a total mess. Politically, economically, socially and educationally. It is a land facing one of the greatest levels of corruption in the world. The streets and infrastructure are more than falling to pieces yet Iraq has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

One area of particular concern is the continued large number of Iraqis claiming asylum overseas particularly amongst Christians. The position amongst all the religious leaders on this is clear as they are all against any of their people leaving Iraq. Are they at risk? Yes everybody is but this nation will never be restored if all the good people leave. However there are real concerns about people with children being made to return when they have spent most of their life out or Iraq. The possibility of those children being able to resettle here is very remote.

Iraq continues in a state of war. As a Christian leader in Iraq we do not want our people to leave. Thousands have fled to Kurdistan in the safe North of Iraq. Many more have recently fled to Turkey. The surrounding turmoil in places like Syria has just added to the pain of Iraq. Many from here had sought refuge in Syria but many have now returned and are living in refugee camps at the boarders. Yonadam Kanna, the main Christian political leader in Iraq, says “if the Christians all leave this land the root is removed and the tree dies”.

Christians are indeed the root of this land!

Blessings

Canon Andrew White - the Vicar of Baghdad

Andrew

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Prayers for healing

After being in the Middle East several weeks I am about to return home. I am desperate to see Caroline and the boys. It has been a very difficult trip not least because of being so ill. The situation with the renal stones flared up and for the first time ever I passed out whilst preaching at the US Embassy. I came round and managed to finish my sermon and then was taken directly to the Embassy Hospital where it was discovered that my renal function was very poor and I was very dehydrated. Once I had treatment at the Embassy and St George’s Clinic I improved somewhat. It was another 5 days before the stones passed and then the pain stopped.

Thank you to for your prayers for healing. read on

From Coventry to Baghdad (2)

Yesterday in my post I talked about the link between resurrection and reconciliation – here is a bit more about how they are linked.

Resurrection and Reconciliation

post-dresden-frauen-rubbleReconciliation is in essence about mending what is broken. Restoring a relationship to what it was meant to be. Therefore the very heart of resurrection is about the restoration of the relationship between the Almighty and humanity; therefore it is about reconciliation a point that St Paul makes clear in II Cor 5:16.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that G-d was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though G-d were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So reconciliation is at the very heart of resurrection ministry. We are a new creation if we are in Christ God has actually reconciled Himself to us and has therefore given us the ministry of reconciliation. Verse 19 makes it clear that the work of reconciliation is not finished. Through Christ and His death and resurrection he is no longer counting their sin against them but is still uniting humanity to his Heavenly Father. First and foremost He continues to reconcile humanity to the Father but this is not a ministry just for some. He has called all of us to continue this ministry of reconciling of restoring this broken relationship. He has therefore called us to be his ambassadors and representatives. To be an Ambassador is a very big role because you have to represent your head of state. In my daily work engaging to our British Ambassador is central to my work. On my phone for him it simply says HMA in other words Her Majesty’s Ambassador. The one who represents Her Majesty The Queen. If we take seriously what St Paul says then we are all His Majesty’s Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

From Coventry to Baghdad (1)

People often ask how did you get involved in Reconciliation. Well the introduction that I have just written to my next book gives the answer.

From Coventry to Baghdad

At the very heart of my work is the work of reconciliation. For me this work is very much centered on and in the Middle East. It all began though when I was preparing for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. It began with working on a restoration of a broken relationship between Jews and Christians amongst students at Cambridge that story is told in depth in The Vicar of Baghdad but my real work in reconciliation at an international level began when I was appointed director of the International Centre for Reconciliation in 1998. Here I was heading up one of the foremost centres for reconciliation in the world. The role of Coventry Cathedral in reconciliation is truly exceptional and begun 58 years before I arrived there on the night of the 14th November 1940.

From Coventry to Baghdad - Coventry BombingThe Second World War was well underway but never to date had a city been completely destroyed. On this night the 14th November 1940 things changed. The City of Coventry in the heart of England was totally destroyed. It gave birth to the term “COVENTRIED” which means to be totally destroyed. Along with Coventry’s destruction was the total obliteration of its medieval Cathedral of St Michael. Named after the Arch Angel and great protector it was no more. Standing in the midst of the smoldering rubble the next morning the Cathedral’s leader at the time Provost Dick Howard took a piece of chalk and wrote on the sanctuary wall “FATHER FORGIVE’.

PEOPLE NOTICED HE WAS WRITING THE WORDS OF OUR LORD FROM THE CROSS. He did not write the words in full though which are “FATHER FORGIVE THEM THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”. People asked why these words were missing? The answer was simple it was the first line of what would become Coventry’s Litany of Reconciliation. “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of G-d”. We also need to be forgiven said the Provost. In this act he did not realize what he was doing. He was giving birth to one of the foremost ministries of reconciliation in the world today.

It was just days later that one of the Cathedral staff standing in the ruins of the Cathedral noticed that amongst the Cathedral rubble were the large medieval nails that had held the roof together. He took three nails and attached together. Thus gave birth to what became known around the world as the Coventry Cross of Nails. Now days all over the world you can find places of reconciliation where the Coventry Cross of Nails is also their symbol. As I go into our own church here in Baghdad there on the alter is the Coventry Cross of Nails in a piece of the bombed stonewall of the Cathedral. Each time I see the cross I remember that reconciliation is about mending that which is broken. Iraq is broken and here we are working at its restoration. All day, every day we are working for reconciliation and I learned about this from my time at Coventry.

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Insights from Sarah Ahmed, Director of Operations
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