Iraq has played a key role in the spread of Christianity since the first century, yet the Christian population in Iraq has dwindled to a mere shadow of itself. 

After decades of back-to-back conflicts, the ancient Christian communities that were once vibrant and an integral part of the landscape have dispersed, their members scattered worldwide. Once the leaders of an emerging professional and middle classes, forming about 10 percent of the population in the late 1980s, today fewer than 200,000 remain, less than 1 percent of the population. 

As for the economic conditions in Iraq, the government is incapable of easing the country’s difficulties because of its dependence on oil revenues and the weakness of the private sector. Iraqi specialists expected the poverty rate in the country to increase to include more than 13 million citizens by the end of 2023 — a quarter of the total Iraqi population — due to the devaluation of the currency and high inflation.

Iraq currently shelters more than 6.4 million displaced people, including 1.2 million internally displaced people; around 5 million internally displaced returnees; 262,024 Syrian refugees; and around 30,000 refugees from other countries.

The successive wars that have embroiled the country for the past four decades have also contributed to the rise in poverty. The government has been unable to address the effects of these wars, which have led to an increase in domestic violence, the spread of drug use; and the destruction of infrastructure and decline in security.

Amid the Iraqi crisis, all Iraqi churches are calling for hope and change, focusing in supporting the youth who are the future of Iraq and its church.

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission remains with Iraq’s Christians, especially those who have found some refuge in the cities and in Iraqi Kurdistan, who strive to rebuild and reanimate their communities. 

Accompanying the Church

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission supports educational programs that instill Christian values to Christian youth and apply rigorous academic curricula. CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s main goal is to complete the forming of all Christian education teachers in the Iraqi Kurdistan and Nineveh Plain regions and to reach out to the maximum number of parishes and their children.

In the Al Qosh area, the Chaldean Church, led by Bishop Thabit Mansour, requested assistance so that their catechetical sessions and summer camps reach more people.

In Ainkawa, the Syriac Catholic Archbishopric of Kurdistan has requested CNEWA-Pontifical Mission to continue its support for catechetical projects as well as the strengthening of parish centers in Akra and Ainkawa, where hundreds of Iraqis turn to seek help in their faith.

Other CNEWA-Pontifical Mission programs include the formation of Chaldean Catholic seminarians at St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary, the formation of lay catechists and catechetical programs for children and the philosophy and theology program at the Pontifical Babel College.

seminarians stand in a line to receive a blessing.
Seminarians prepare to receive the ministry of acolyte in the seminary chapel in 2017. (photo: Courtesy of St. Peter Seminary archives)

Responding to Human Needs

Many Christians who used to belong to Iraq’s middle classes have fell into poverty. Many sold their houses in Baghdad and other unstable regions of the country and sought refuge in the north, among the ancient Christian communities in the Nineveh Plain and parts of Mosul, only to be threatened again and displaced by militias.

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission stands beside these people’s needs by providing clothing and food for children, especially infant formula for newborns; assisting the displaced who are in need of food, oil for heating, clothing and medical support; creating job opportunities through income generating projects to stabilize their families and villages; offering educational and technical training for the youth to ensure their ability to sustain themselves; and by covering transportation expenses for school and university students who live in faraway areas.

boy handles food boxes in Lebanon
A boy handles a CNEWA-Pontifical Mission food box at the Syriac Catholic School for Iraqi refugee children, during a food distribution day, 31 December. (photo: Maroun Bassil)

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