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Only Anglican priest in Iraq says a secular government would improve life for Christians

by Cara Bentley

There are nearly 20,000 ordained ministers in the Church of England; in Iraq there is just one.

That one Anglican vicar is Rev Faez Jirjees, who, aged 53, is the parish priest at St George's Church in Baghdad where Canon Andrew White used to work.

Christians make up about one per cent of the population in Iraq but many of them fled when Islamic State (IS) were at their most brutal.

Despite being bombed several times, St George's Church in the capital has, for a long time, bucked the trend by being a hub for interfaith relations, providing healthcare to Christians, as well as Shia and Sunni Muslims through its clinic, dentist's, pharmacy and laboratories.

The church also hosts a nursery, primary school and a 'hope centre' that helps train young people with vocational skills for jobs.

Rev Jirjees' parents dedicated him to become a priest as a child and he served in the Anglican church close to his house as a boy.

He explained that part of his calling to ministry was meeting Rt Rev Michael Lewis, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf several times, who he found extremely kind towards others.

However, being a church leader was something he forgot about for a few decades.

"I did the normal college and education and I started working and got married and I forgot about being a priest but I went back to this field when I was 40 years old."

On a trip to the UK, Rev Jirjees, the first Iraqi to be ordained by the Anglican church, told Premier what the hardest things about being a Christin in Iraq were.

"Lack of trust," he replied.

"First of all, a lack of trust because of what happened with ISIS and Christians cannot go back to their homeland because they are afraid that the same thing would happen again.

"Second, there's a lack of trust in the government because Christians are sure that the government is not doing anything and are not introducing any kind of services. These two reasons are good enough to mean Christians start leaving the country."

He explained through a translator that since 2003 no government has been able to hold together the different religions and cultures of the country peacefully.

"My hope is that religion and politics...that we make a separation between these two and the country becomes a secular country with a secular government - that will motivate Christians to live in that country."

"I believe a secular government could look at everyone equally and they will not be looking at everyone - whether he is from this religion or another religion."

When asked if he ever doubts that God is good, he replied: "Never, the opposite - that brings us closer to God.

"Because God is always good and all these evil things do not come through God - it always comes through what our hands do."

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