Bishop Warduni: Baghdad Christian refugee center closed because of COVID-19

Residents are evacuated from the facility dedicated to the Virgin Mary because of possible coronavirus infections. The site has been sanitised. Iraq has reported more than 21,000 cases with 650 deaths. For the Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, things are getting worse because of the “invisible enemy” who “knows no mercy” and affects “all ages”.

BAGHDAD (AsiaNews) – The coronavirus outbreak is “getting worse in the capital,” and other parts of the country. “The situation is becoming more and more precarious, day after day,” this according to Mgr Shlemon Audish Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate noted that Christians too are becoming victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, more every day. What is more, the largest Christian centre for displaced people in the capital, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was shut down by the Human Rights Commission.

The facility, which held up to 135 families from Mosul and the Nineveh plain who had fled the Islamic State (Is) group in the summer of 2014, is located near the headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement.

Recently, it reported some cases of the novel coronavirus. Everything began when a woman came down with symptoms compatible with COVID-19. She works at a hospital run by nuns and apparently infected her husband and daughter. Three other cases followed in another family.

Many of the families living at the Virgin Mary centre come from Bakhdida and the Nineveh Governorate. Before the lockdown it held 114 families, for a total of 345 people.

Last March it was thoroughly sanitised, but it did not escape recent infections. The decision to shut it down was taken to prevent further spreading of the virus, local sources said.

Still, leaving the camp has meant more hardships for families already struggling to find work and means to survive.

“Young people and seniors, people of all ages, have been affected. This virus touches everyone and knows no mercy,” said Bishop Warduni. “A tragedy of this magnitude was unthinkable. There is no way out.”

“Over the centuries we have had episodes, negative events, for which penance was done. Today even this does not seem to be enough, it is something terrible . . . Even bad people are asking for mercy, because they are afraid.”

Recently, the Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, released a letter with his thoughts about the pandemic, stressing that its tragic implications can provide an opportunity “for a deeper faith” and a “more caring” society.

For Bishop Warduni, “It is worse than a war because we do not know where this invisible enemy is coming from; we do not know what it is. Only a few days after it enters our body does it manifest itself” in all its scope. Lately, the situation “has worsened” with “hundreds” of cases every day.

“I started translating a book dedicated to Our Lady,” said the prelate. “We hope that our heavenly Mother, who stood below the cross, can be a source of salvation for humanity.”

Iraq has officially reported 21,315 cases of the novel coronavirus with 652 confirmed deaths.