Friday, May 23, 2003

From a Baghdad parish

St Elya's stands next to a Shia mosque, whose minaret soars high above the simple cross on top of the squat, white church. This is a country where religious and family bonds are tight, and where Christians and Muslims are still expected to marry within their own communities. But despite fears of a Muslim state, I saw no tensions on the ground between the two communities. During the bombing of Baghdad, both Christian and Muslim families took shelter in the basement of the church. Fr Basha supplied the mosque with its generator, and I saw how, throughout the day, Muslims wander into the yard of the church to fill up plastic containers with clean water from the two tanks beside the grotto to Our Lady. In common with other Christians I spoke to, Fr Basha does not believe that Christians face any danger from a militant Islamic regime. The Americans may not have brought security and stability to Baghdad, his reasoning goes, but they will not allow Shia extremists to seize control.

"After so many years of having one voice and one party, it will be a challenge to live with diversity", Fr Basha told me. "There is a possibility of exchanging ideas if we accept each other. As Christians, we should be tolerant and our Christian culture should remind us that we are peacemakers. This is not a principle to be declared but a reality to be lived."

But there was less optimism at the headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) where I was taken by Bishop Jaques Isaacs, the portly, chatty rector of Babel College....