(Brisbane, Australia) When most of us hear the mere mention of the Christian communities of Iraq our hearts intuitively sink. For we have all seen the horrors which ISIS and other extremist groups have imposed on those who do not conform to their radical hate-filled ideologies, be they Christians, Yazidi or most commonly Muslim. It is in this context that Redemptorist Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda CSsR, Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil Iraq, has been working to try to bring healing to our wounded world. This work was honoured by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) on Tuesday 23, by conferring an honorary doctorate of the University (Honoris Causa) on the Archbishop.
ACU honorary doctorate degrees recognised individuals who have provided outstanding contributions to the community and to humanity. President Professor Greg Craven summed up his work with the following; “Archbishop Warda is renowned for his support of persecuted people, namely the Christian and Yezidi refugees of Iraq. He has made a significant contribution to Catholic education in the Middle East, promoting education as a means of bringing peace and harmony to the region.”
Archbishop Warda’s responsibilities have extended far beyond normal peacetime pastoral duties. While ministering in Erbil during the years of the ISIS war, the Archbishop served as de facto chief administrator of relief services for displaced people.
As thousands of refugees fled ISIS attacks from neighbouring areas and poured into his diocese, Archbishop Warda provided oversight of food, housing, education and pastoral care for nearly twenty thousand threatened Christian families.
Since the ISIS threat has diminished, Archbishop Warda has focused his efforts on returning thousands of refugees back to their homelands and re-establishing the Catholic presence in Iraq. Archbishop Warda has become a spokesperson on behalf of the persecuted Christian and Yezidi people of northern Iraq.
He has appeared in broadcasts and interviews in major news outlets around the world, raising awareness of the plight of religious minorities and calling for support. Archbishop Warda has been recognised as a leading voice in promoting open and peaceful dialogue among people of diverse faiths.
One of Archbishop Warda’s missions has been to promote peace and harmony among the people of his region, especially through the means of Catholic education. In 2015, he founded the Catholic University of Erbil, which is open to students and scholars of all faiths. The university has become a source of opportunity for persecuted peoples to advance in the world and manifests the power of education to improve lives and positively influence attitudes.
Despite his lifetime of outstanding service to Catholic education, Archbishop Warda is humbled by those he has worked with through many difficult years. Archbishop Warda expresses a sense of gratitude that his cause has been recognised within the Catholic intellectual tradition as serving in the interests of the common good.
Archbishop Warda’s missions are a testament to the Redemptorist commitment to those on the margins and our legacy of peacemaking in the time of war. It is with great pride that the Redemptorists of Oceania congratulate their confrère on this well-deserved accolade. May his continued witness to the wounded world be an example to us all in working for justice, liberation and peace.