He is one of the world’s most prominent priests, but Canon Andrew White – known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” – has reached a painstaking conclusion: Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began.
“The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited,” White told Fox News this week. “The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough.”
Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain.
“If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help,” he said. “And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot – food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”
For decades, Christians endured persecution in Iraq by hardline extremists as infidel “people of the book” – but their fate became significantly more dire in 2014 after ISIS overran Mosul and the many ancient Christian villages surrounding the city. Thousands of families overnight were forced to flee their home, and while some have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region, many have left the country altogether.
“A lot of these guys I have known before they were ISIS, when they were part of militias like ‘Sons of Iraq,’” he said. “They operate in secret cells all over Baghdad, and the harder the Iraqi Army attacks Mosul, the more they attack Baghdad.”
And, White stressed, there simply isn’t a “safe” way to work with them.
“It is important to find ways to engage with them, to look into their philosophies. I tried to invite some of the ISIS jihadists to dinner once,” he added. “They told me they would come, but that they would chop my head off afterwards. I didn’t think it would be a nice way to end a dinner party.”