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Monday, 15 July 2013 14:03

Brisbane connection helping Iraqi Christians’ peace work

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Brisbane Catholics are playing their part in working to support a peaceful and productive future for Christians in Iraq’s north, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said.

The archbishop was in Brisbane late last month to give the latest news on a successful educational partnership between the Archdiocese of Erbil, Catholic Religious Australia Queensland (CRAQld) and the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

The archbishop said Muslims in the region were also benefitting.

“They are requesting the Church to open their schools and hospitals,” the 43-year-old Baghdad-born archbishop said during his recent visit to Brisbane.

“Muslims there trust our education and health systems.” 

Archbishop Warda was also in Australia to raise awareness of the plight of Christians in Iraq’s still war-torn south – “to make sure the world does not forget us,” he said.

He was referring to the 12,000 Christian families who have fled the violence in Baghdad and Mosul to resettle in the more peaceful north.

Last year Daughters of Jesus' Sacred Heart Sisters Samar Mikha and Azhar Koka studied educational administration at Brisbane’s ACU campus and returned to Erbil to put their studies into practice.

Soon the ACU/CRAQld partnership will support 25-year-old Samaria, from Erbil, who will study for a Masters Degree in Health Administration at the ACU. 

Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan, whose visit to Iraq in 2009 inspired him to initiate the scheme, is hopeful the scholarship can be linked to Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Hospital.

“When the archbishop was in Brisbane on Monday, May 20, he visited the Holy Spirit Hospital to meet with staff and be shown some of the facilities there,” he said. 

“The next day he met with the family who will host Samaria.

“She’s already trained as a biologist and is administering pathology at a hospital in Erbil.

“Samaria will return with many new skills to her home country.

“There will be a great demand for these skills as another hospital with 16 operating theatres, about double the number at the Holy Spirit Hospital, is under construction in Erbil.”

Archbishop Warda said Sisters Azhar and Samar were progressing well with their mission back in Erbil since their ACU scholarships which gave them new skills in educational administration.

They are helping to run a school in the Margardakh parish school in the suburb of Ankawa.

The school, for Years 1 to 8, has 405 students.

The archbishop said the Christian population in Erbil archdiocese was growing rapidly.

“The archdiocese used to have 1500 Christian families; now it has almost 5000,” he said.

“A second church is already being built in Erbil to meet a growing need.

“We thank everyone in Brisbane archdiocese and elsewhere who are praying for Christians in Iraq.

“Fr Gerry said these prayers are being said in many parishes.

“I will be taking this news of encouragement home.

“I would also ask Christians here in Australia to live the Gospel in solidarity with Christians in Iraq.”

Photo: Visiting Holy Spirit Hospital are Archbishop Bashar Warda (left) and Fr Gerry Heffernan. They are with former provincial of Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters Sr Bernadette Edgecombe.

This article was originally published in 16 June 2013 edition of The Catholic Leader, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.