‘Vicar of Baghdad’ Canon Andrew White Refuses to Leave Iraq, Despite the Vicious Christian Persecution by Islamic State
By Boaz Wadel
Canon Andrew White, known around the world as the "Vicar of Baghdad," is refusing to leave Iraq, despite the ever-worse persecution and killings by the terror-group formerly known as ISIS, and now known as Islamic State (IS).
UK-born Canon White, who bravely continues his ministry despite suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, is the leader of St George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq, which is the country's last Anglican Church.
Situated on Haifa Street in Baghdad's Red Zone - St George's Church has been damaged by five bombs in the past three years.
He estimates that his flock used to number around 6,000 people, but in the last decade over 1,200 have been killed, according to CNN's Arwa Damon.
"One of things that really hurt was when one of the Christians came and said, 'For the first time in 1,600 years, we had no church in Nineveh,'" he told Damon.
He has now issued a plea for prayer and support and described the disastrous situation in Iraq.
"Every day, we think that the crisis here cannot get worse and every day it does," he said in a media interview. "Yesterday, over 1,500 people were killed.
"Iraq seems like old news, yet things just get worse and worse here. It is as if hell has broken out here and nobody cares; that is apart from you, our supporters, who never leave us and keep supporting us in every way and to you I simply say thank you."
Canon White said many Christians have left or are planning to leave.
"Even here in Baghdad, people are terrified of what is happening around us," he said. "The IS has established their hidden cells within Baghdad, and people are seriously under threat even though they are not in the areas controlled by the IS. The number of kidnappings here has soared and people simply do not know what is going to happen next."
The atrocities allegedly committed by IS continue to stun the world
In a BBC interview, Andrew White says that people are being "slaughtered." Speaking to the BBC on Thursday night from northern Iraq, he said that the international community needed to take seriously the needs of the Christian community in the country "so they are not left on the side."
Asked if he could envisage a day when he would advise his own congregation to leave Iraq, Canon White replied: "I have always said to our people 'I'm not going to leave you, don't you leave me.' Now I can't say that any longer. If I tell them not to leave I'm saying: 'You've got to be prepared to die for your faith.'"
An IS member about to execute
The UN Security Council has held an emergency meeting on Iraq, after the largest Christian town was seized by Islamic State militants. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis have fled their homes following a warning by the militants to renounce their faiths or face death.
Canon White shared with the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) staff the terrible story of a child he baptized being "cut in half" by IS.
He said that the five-year-old son of a founding member of Baghdad's Anglican church was cut in half during an attack by the Islamic State on the Christian town of Qaraqosh.
In an interview today (Friday, August 8, 2014), an emotional Canon Andrew White told ACNS that he christened the boy several years ago, and that the child's parents had named the lad Andrew after him.
Canon White speaks at the church in which
"I'm almost in tears because I've just had somebody in my room whose little child was cut in half," he said. "I baptized his child in my church in Baghdad. This little boy, they named him after me - he was called Andrew."
The fact that Andrew's brother was named George after St George's Anglican Church in Iraq's capital demonstrates the strong ties the family had to the church there. The boy's father had been a founder member of the church back in 1998 when the Canon had first come to Baghdad. Canon White added, "This man, before he retired north to join his family was the caretaker of the Anglican church."
Though the move north should have proved safer for the Iraqi Christian family, the Islamic State made sure that it became a place of terror. "This town of Qaraqosh is a Christian village so they knew everybody there was part of their target group," said Canon White. "They [the Islamic State] attacked the whole of the town. They bombed it, they shot at people."
The Islamic State group captured Qaraqosh overnight Wednesday/Thursday after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.
The boy's family, along with many other townspeople, have now fled to Erbil. However, news reports suggest this may be the Islamic State's next destination.
Anglicans at the forefront of relief
The violent takeover of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State is threatening to bring about what the UN has said would be a "humanitarian catastrophe" in the beleaguered nation.
Canon White said that Anglicans there have been working hard to provide a lot of support for the Christians who have fled Mosul and Nineveh to the north, as well as the many other minority groups targeted by the Islamic State.
"Anglicans are literally at the forefront of bringing help in this situation and there's no-one else," he said adding that the church is supplying much-needed food, water, accommodation and other relief items thanks to financial contributions from supporters overseas. The church's activities are led by a Muslim, Dr. Sarah Ahmed.
"We need two things: prayer and money. With those two we can do something. Without those we can do nothing."
Those wanting to donate can do so at frrme.org. As regards prayer, Canon White said, "I have three 'P's that I always mention which is for Protection, Provision and Perseverance. We need protection, we need to provide for those people and we need to keep going."
Another IS atrocity in Iraq
"It's clear from social media posts on Facebook and Twitter that members of the Anglican Communion right across the world are praying for this situation," said the story. "Many have also indicated their support for persecuted Christians in Iraq by changing their social media avatars to the Arabic symbol for 'N' denoting Nazarene which IS has been using to identify Christian homes."
Baghdad is part of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, which is included in the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, a member church of the Anglican Communion.
Though the move north should have proved safer for the Iraqi Christian family, the Islamic State has made sure that it became a place of terror.
"This town of Qaraqosh is a Christian village so they knew everybody there was part of their target group," said White. "They [the Islamic State] attacked the whole of the town. They bombed it, they shot at people."
The Islamic State group captured Qaraqosh overnight Aug. 6/7 after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.
Called a "brutal, extremist group" and which claims to have fighters from across the world, IS announced the creation of a "caliphate" - an Islamic state - across its claimed territory in Iraq and Syria a month ago.
Leaders speak out
In recent days, Anglican leaders from countries including Egypt, Wales, Brazil and South Africa have all expressed their dismay at the situation unfolding in Iraq.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued this statement Aug. 8 on the situation in Iraq, shortly before he travelled from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea. In it he said, "The horrific events in Iraq rightly call our attention and sorrow yet again. Christians and other religious minorities are being killed and face terrible suffering.
"What we are seeing in Iraq violates brutally people's right to freedom of religion and belief, as set out under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety. I believe that, like France, the United Kingdom's doors should be open to refugees, as they have been throughout history."
He added, "With the world's attention on the plight of those in Iraq, we must not forget that this is part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith. Only this week I received an email from a friend in Northern Nigeria about an appalling attack on a village, where Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Such horrific stories have become depressingly familiar in countries around the world, including Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
"We must continue to cry to God for peace and justice and security throughout the world. Those suffering such appalling treatment in Iraq are especially in my prayers at this time."
Other Christian leaders have also spoken up about the situation in Iraq including Roman Catholics, who, in England and Wales, have designated Aug. 9, as a Day of Prayer for Christians in Iraq.