NI peace process an inspiration: Vicar of Baghdad

Canon Andrew White (centre) with First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Stormont
Canon Andrew White (centre) with First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at Stormont

An Anglican minister known as ‘the Vicar of Baghdad’ has told First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness how the Ulster peace process has been an inspiration for Christians facing persecution in Iraq.

Canon Andrew White, 50, who is the vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, spoke to the politicians at Stormont on Thursday morning.

The minister, a father-of-two who is also coping with multiple sclerosis, was ordered to leave the Iraqi capital by the Archbishop of Canterbury last December as Christians in Iraq came under increasing threat.

He arrived in Northern Ireland on Wednesday as part of a worldwide fundraising mission.

“What we see has happened here is the story of reconciliation and it gives us hope,” he told the News Letter.

“The fact that I have met the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister sitting together as friends offers hope that if enemies can become friends here by working through a process it gives us hope where we are.”

While admitting the conflict in Iraq is on “a bigger scale” he said “your enemy is the person whose story you have not heard”.

He added that a dinner invitation he sent to ISIS leaders “did not happen as they said they would have to kill me”.

The Rev White, a world-renowned figure due to the extensive persecution and harrowing trials which Christians in Iraq and Syria have been undergoing, said he is still able to return to Baghdad “occasionally”.

In his work as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy to the Middle East, Canon White worked to bring together leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. He said many Christians in the area had to flee as refugees.

“They have lost everything – their homes, their money, their schooling, their education, everything, so we are starting from scratch with them,” he said.

“Wherever I am I am fundraising because we need hundreds of thousands of dollars every month to sustain our people.

“But I don’t come thinking I am here to fundraise, I am here to thank the Ulster people for what they have given me. I was trained when I was at Cambridge by an Ulsterman, the Rev David Armstrong.

“He was the one who first introduced me to reconciliation. I studied for ordination at Cambridge and then did my doctorate there.”

To date the Rev White said he “has lost count of the number of church members I have lost” to ISIS.

“We are talking about thousands of people,” he said.

“They kill children as well. They turned up to one of our church members and said if he did not agree to convert to Islam they would kill all his children.

“He phoned me that evening asking if I thought God would forgive him and I told him of course.

“The next day when he phoned me he was crying and said ISIS turned up and asked his children to follow Islam and Mohammed and they said they always loved Jesus and would never stop doing that. And they shot them all dead.”

When in Iraq the minister has around 50 bodyguards: “I said to one of my soldiers if you saw ISIS coming towards us what would you do? He said I’d rip off my uniform and run.

“So I asked why are you doing the job and he said for the money.”

Canon White will be speaking publicly at St Mark’s Church in Portadown on Friday at 2pm.