There are reports about co-ordinated attacks against your churches. What does it mean to be a Christian in Baghdad today?
To me bearing witness to the Christian faith today in Baghdad is something logical and natural. Who follows Christ has simply to do what he did. As he said: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, [. . .] to the ends of the earth,” which means reciprocating his love for all of us humans. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we must live like Christ. We must be another Christ in this world so that people, looking at our deeds, can glorify the Father who is heaven. We only do what Christ said and told us to do.
Well, except that in Baghdad when Christian churches are systematically attacked and Christians are repeatedly abducted, what you call “simple and logical” appears very risky . . . .
All it takes naturally is to live how the Lord showed us. Christians know that this is the true life to live, namely be faithful to God, love everyone without any ulterior motive, be the first to love, love even your enemies, those who hate you. When others see this, they are surprised and impressed even if they do not share our faith and principles.
What is more, we must remember that Christians are not the only ones at risk; every Iraqi is in the same boat. Certainly there are difficulties. There are people who do not want us here, but as a rule we live and go forward, certain that God told us through Jesus that he will be with us until the end of the world. Time and again he told us: “Do not be afraid.”
Bearing witness without fear, even until martyrdom. . . .
Bearing witness does not mean one seeks martyrdom; it means instead becoming one with Christianity’s history and traditions which have encountered difficulties in every age.
It is true that in our country these days we need more courage; no one can deny that. When I leave home in the morning I am aware that I could run into a suicide bomber or walk or drive by a car bomb or be abducted . . . . For this reason every day I repeat a prayer: “Lord, I put my life in your hands.” But then we can still get around. We all went to visit the churches that were hit a few days ago, without hesitation . . . . If the world today is more ferocious with God, with faith and with Christians, the more we are called to bear witness to Christ; that is our first duty for the simple reason that we are Christians.
We are trying to move forward, steadfastly holding onto our faith and onto Christ who saved us.
If however we should die for that reason, then we shall be blessed, because the pupil must be like the teacher, and ours was hung from the Cross.
How did fasting go this year in Nineveh?
It was different than in other years. Some churches were full; others were not—partly because many parishioners have emigrated. Others were forced to leave by force, whilst others were discouraged by this winter’s unusual cold and the lack of fuel to heat our churches.
But despite these material difficulties, we did pray in every church, and fasted especially for peace so that the Lord’s grace may touch all those who are causing the violence and make them see where the good lies for all Iraqis and the whole country. We say that prayer rises to heaven and when it falls back it brings the rain of God’s mercy.
What do you want from Western Christians?
I ask them not to forget us and that they continue praying for peace, because this war is not only destroying Christians but all Iraqis.
We know that so many have joined the pope, the cardinals and the bishops in crying out to the world that Iraq is hurt, that we must mend it, that we must all feel responsible.
We have lived here for centuries, Christians and Muslims, but the fundamentalists, who have always existed everywhere, have broken a certain balance and undermine harmony.
But we want to change the view about these enemies and turn hatred into love. Thus we insist; we don’t give up; we sow the seeds of friendship so that we may soon harvest a new peace.
Testimoniare non è cercare il martirio, ma inserirsi nella storia e nella tradizione cristiana che sempre, in ogni epoca, ha incontrato delle difficoltà.
* l'intervista integrale a S.E. Mons. Shlomoh Warduni sarà pubblicata nel nuovo numero della rivista cartacea Oasis in uscita a maggio 2008.