Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
LONDON, UK (ANS) -- On Friday December 9, an entire day in the House of Lords was devoted to discussing the plight of Christians in the Middle East. A total of nine of their Lordships praised the work of Canon Andrew White, popularly known as ‘The Vicar of Baghdad’ in their speeches.
Canon White’s colleague, Peter Marsden, director of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) for the past two years, listened to the debate in the upper House.
He told ANS the debate was introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams with the words; "My Lords, many people these days have a short and skewed historical memory. It is all too easy to go along with the assumption that Christianity is an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it."
Canon Andrew White, 'The Vicar of Baghdad.'
Lord Mackay was first to respond, saying:
"Today I want particularly to mention the position of Canon Andrew White as the vicar of Baghdad. He has played a very important part in maintaining Christian witness in Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances."
Speaking of time spent with Andrew in Israel, Lord Mackay recalled, "I have to say that the relationships he had with people from right across the community were very remarkable. He has shown in more recent times a fine example of Christian fortitude in the troubles that now beset Iraq.
"I wish particularly to pay tribute to Andrew White's work and I hope that he will be able to continue for a long time in his office."
This was greeted with cries of "Hear! Hear!" from the 80 Lords in the chamber.
Lord Patten urged both their Lordships and the British Government to act in response to religious persecution, saying, "There can be no walking on the other side of this road, even in the Palace of Westminster. I hope that our secular leaders in the coalition will restate religious freedom as a human right."
Lord Turnberg and Lord Palmer commended Andrew's work, Lord Alton spoke of his "indomitable spirit and incredible courage" and Baroness Cox paid tribute to "his magnificent work in Iraq, especially in improving interfaith relations.”
Lord Carey praised Andrew's "remarkable work [as] one of the key players in the Alexandria Declaration "bringing together parties for the religious track of the Israel Palestine peace process.” He went on to state that Andrew "is currently making a powerful contribution to harmony in Iraq and the Middle East."
Lord Hylton spoke at length about "my friend Canon Andrew White" and the work with the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq. "Lives have undoubtedly been saved as a result," he said.
The Minister of State, Lord Howell, stated that, in the view of the Government, religious freedom is a basic human right. He confirmed Government support for the Alexandria Declaration and "the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq, which seeks to bring together religious leaders and combat sectarian violence, and of course to continue the invaluable work of Canon Andrew White."
Lord Howell concluded: “I end my comments by saying that, unlike Mr Richard Dawkins, I have faith in the faiths. We will continue to highlight and condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals because of their beliefs, wherever they occur.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams wound up the debate by thanking their Lordships for their high caliber contributions to the debate and observed, "Not the least among those was the admiration widely expressed for the work of Canon Andrew White in Baghdad, and I am happy to associate myself with that admiration."
When Marsden spoke with Canon White afterwards, White said: "It was wonderful that the House of Lords debated this issue and took seriously the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
What really matters is that we must make sure that the political world gets behind the religious means of working at reconciliation. This is the only hope for all minorities in the Middle East."
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME)
FRRME, and its President, Canon Andrew White, work to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the Middle East.
The group’s website states: “We specialize in conflict where there is a religious component to the violence. We also provide humanitarian relief and promote economic rejuvenation where conflict has caused poverty and hardship.”
At present, most of the Foundation’s work is focused on Baghdad, where FRRME sponsors St George's church, of which Canon White is Vicar. Through the church, FRRME delivers humanitarian assistance to those in need.
The St George's clinic employs Iraqi medical staff from across the sectarian divides. They work side by side to deliver high-quality care, regardless of patients’ religious or ethnic background. They care for 8,000 households in the region, treating over 100 patients every day, 2,000 every month.
The Foundation’s website states: “This models both best medical practice and religious reconciliation at a grassroots level.”
FRRME’s Religious Reconciliation work brings together senior religious leaders from across the ethnic and sectarian divides.
According to the Foundation website: “These men were bitter enemies and have the power to incite serious sectarian violence.
“Through this process they have begun to use their considerable influence to persuade their people to desist from violence, to support the rule of law and to engage in the democratic process.”
|** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter|
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