The Vicar of Baghdad Visits Toronto



The persecution and extermination of Christians, which have plagued the Middle East for the last few years, rarely receive the coverage they deserve in the mainstream media. The attempts to whitewash the most repulsive Muslim barbarism, which causes them, as a phenomenon that somehow has nothing to do with the “real” Islam often distorts that coverage.

It is always a surprise and an unforgettable experience to see in person somebody, who has been in the heart of the events in that turbulent area. On Tuesday night we had the rare chance to meet such a person at St. Paul’s Bloor Street Anglican Church. The Reverend Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad was its guest.


The Vicar of Baghdad in Toronto

The name with which he became famous came from his position as the Vicar of the only Anglican Church in Baghdad. He is representing a dwindling and dying congregation and his appearance the other night sadly matched that gloomy reality. He looked as if he was transported from a bygone era – old-fashioned glasses with thick lenses and equally old-fashioned suit with a bow tie and matching pocket square.

For the most of his life he had to fight many challenges that sometimes can crush a weaker person. In his 30’s he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Though the condition has impaired his ability to speak clearly, the Vicar has not allowed the disease to slow him down.

He went to Iraq during Saddam’s years, invited by the only Christian in the dictator’s circle – Tariq Azis. The Vicar became a witness of the dictatorship (which nevertheless guaranteed Christians’ religious rights). Then he saw the destruction of the wars and the emerging Islamic cruelty, rarely seen before. In the beginning of his stay he was able to move freely around, in the recent years the Vicar was forced to go out surrounded by dozens of armed guards, if he wanted to stay alive.

In his message he talked about Mesopotamia, the place so closely related to the events described in the Old Testament. Then the Christianity left its mark there, starting from St. Thomas. It flourished despite the many problems, but the newest forms of Muslim fanaticism are most likely going to put an end to it. The majority of the Christians in Iraq had been chased away, many of them killed, and the remaining don’t see any future there and want to get out.

All that Rev. Canon White hears now are more and more stories of murder and cruelty against Christians most of whom he knew personally. Somebody from his church called him recently crying – the Muslim terrorists gave him a choice to convert to Islam or die. He chose to utter the hated Muslim conversion phrase and now he was devastated, asking: “Will Jesus accept me now?” The Vicar replied that Jesus would always love him and look over him.

Another tragedy he shared with sadness was the similar attempt to convert four Christian Iraqi boys – they refused to indulge the Muslim terrorists and were beheaded. The Vicar saw in that the heroism of the Christian martyrs coming back to life in a new era. (That speaks clearly about the abyss dividing the Christian and Islamic concepts of martyrdom – in Christianity it is about withstanding the challenges against your faith, sometimes to the point of sacrificing your life; in Islam martyrdom is measured by the number of the infidels the faithful could kill with their suicide vest.)


The Vicar sings

Despite the tragic fate of the Christians that he discussed during his presentation, he still didn’t want to give up and abandon the believers in Iraq. He tried to cheer up the audience by asking it to sing “Down in My Heart”. The audience was too depressed to do that, so he had to start singing and even jokingly “chastise” the visitors as being the most boring of all the places he had been to. That finally did the trick and lifted people’s spirits, urging them to sing.

The Vicar’s whole life has been dedicated to his beloved Christian flock and even in those difficult times he was thinking of them. He sold books and posters and it was the only way to keep those people fed and warm in the camps where they had to live.

It was an unforgettable evening strangely dominated by the opposing emotions of hope and despair.

© 2014

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