Mgr Nizar Seeman, the Syriac Chaplain, speaks about his concerns for his home country in the light of the recent violence and upheaval:
Every Sunday we gather in Holy Trinity Church, Brook Green to celebrate Mass in the Syriac Rite. There are 350 families in our community, some in Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham, and about 80% in London. They are based all over the capital and drive up to an hour each week to attend Mass. It’s a big sacrifice, but it’s our way of keeping up with our traditions.
We are an immigrant community, with some families from Syria, but the majority from Iraq. The roots of Christianity are very deep in these countries. Our Syriac Rite dates back to the third century and is celebrated in Arabic and Syriac, which belongs to the Aramaic family of languages, although we have some English in our celebration to help the children understand.
Most of our community were originally based in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine, but over the past 25 years numbers in those lands have dwindled as many have left to start a new life elsewhere. Yet many of us still have close family in Iraq, with my own parents in Qaraqosh, where there are about 50,000 people in a close-knit community.
Here in the UK, we are very worried about the present situation in Iraq, trying to help in every way we can. We have raised and sent funds to the local bishop for food and medicine. It doesn’t resolve the problem, but it helps and it’s our duty. We try to be a sign of hope for these people, speaking on their behalf to the media and to government. We act as their voices, raising their issues and asking that their dignity be restored.
It is already a human disaster for all those, Christians and people of other faiths, who have been displaced. Now the winter is coming; what will happen to these people? They need to be assured they’re going to be safe, to be able to return home without worrying about being attacked again.
If they are not allowed to live in peace and no longer feel safe, then they will have no choice but to leave with sadness. If Iraq is left without Christianity, it will be a sad day indeed; a light will have gone out and Iraq will enter a dark age.
Through all the years we have served Iraq as doctors, engineers and university professors. If Christians leave, education, culture and diversity will all suffer in Iraq. If that happens, then IS and its radical members will have realised their project.
When we came to the UK, the British government gave us rights and asked us to fulfil our duties. That is how people should be treated with dignity. That is all we that ask for our community in Iraq, too.
Mgr Nizar’s words appeared in the September 2014 edition of the Westminster Record. You can read the full paper online, which includes all the statements made by Cardinal Vincent on Iraq and Gaza, here.