Iraq Mourns Bishop “Who Was Always Smiling”

Tributes have been paid to Bishop Andreas Abouna of Iraq who died Tuesday, July 27th after a lifetime of a ministry to a Church beset by war, oppression and increasing hardship.

Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad died this morning in Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq. He was 67 and had suffered from a kidney ailment.  Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly is due to preside at Bishop Abouna’s funeral at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Ankawa, near Erbil.  In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil described him as a pastor who was “always smiling, even in very difficult situations”.

Andreas Abouna was born on March 23, 1943 in the village of Bedar, outside the northern Iraqi town of Zakho.  At age 14, he joined St Peter’s Seminary, then based in the northern city of Mosul, and was ordained a priest for the Chaldean Catholic Church on 5th June 1966.

He was a parish priest in the diocese of Basra in southern Iraq from 1967 and four years later he was appointed parish priest of St Joseph the Worker’s Church, Baghdad, where he served for 20 years.   In 1989, he became personal secretary to Chaldean Catholic leader Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid of Baghdad.

Nearly two years later he moved to Ealing, west London, where he became priest in charge of the Chaldean and Syrian-Catholic Mission in England, a role he fulfilled for 11 years.  On November 11, 2002, he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad and returned to his native country the following year after being ordained to the episcopate in Rome by Pope John Paul II on January 6, 2003.

Within weeks of taking office, Saddam Hussein was overthrown and key parts of Iraq including Baghdad fell victim to extreme violence.

Christians were among the worst to suffer and Bishop Abouna helped his people in the face of insurgent activity including bomb attacks on churches and threats of violence against non-Muslims, incidents which sparked a mass exodus from the city.

Amid increasing health problems, Bishop Abouna stayed in Baghdad, holding youth events where security allowed.

He responded to a shortage of priests by serving at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption, in the city’s Al Mansour district.   Archbishop Warda said: “He was a very close friend not just to me but to so many others. He was always smiling, even in very difficult situations.”

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said: “Bishop Abouna was a very good and humble man, very open-minded. He really took care of each one of his priests and he always worked for the unity of the Church. I hope he can pray for us from heaven.”

Aid to the Church in Need, which had helped fund Bishop Abouna’s health care, worked closely with him on projects including the relocation of St Peter’s Seminary away from Baghdad where the situation had become unsafe.

ACN projects coordinator for Iraq, Marie-Ange Siebrecht said: “I had the pleasure to meet Bishop Abouna many times during my visits to northern Iraq.  “He was a very spiritual person and had great concern for the priests and seminarians he was in charge of. Especially in Baghdad he played a great role among the priests to try to show them that there is a future in their country.”

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