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Engage: 1 November 2010

Canon Andrew White - The Vicar of Baghdad - will be telling us about the church in Baghdad and its leaders.

From Times Online July 4, 2007

Profile: Canon Andrew White by Joanna Sugden

Canon Andrew White is known as the vicar of Baghdad. He has worked at St George’s church, the only Anglican Church in Iraq, since 2005 and says there is nowhere he would rather be.

The eccentric canon, who stands at over six foot and dresses in dog-collar and bullet-proof vest, is chief executive of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, an organisation at the forefront of peacemaking in Iraq.

From a trailer in the Green Zone where he lives, Canon White, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, sends regular e-mail updates to his many supporters around the world that are both humorous and hopeful.

Yesterday in his e-mail he spoke of the worst meeting of his life with a senior al-Qaeda representative in Amman who warned him that they were "going to start killing in the UK and USA". Canon White continued: "One sentence I remembered but did not understand was 'those who cure you will kill you'. I did not understand this then but in the last two days since the terrorist activities in the UK were brought to head I was not surprised when there were reports that those arrested were all involved in the health services. Those terrible words 'those who cure you will kill you' suddenly made sense."

He said that "the litany of planned killing was horrendous" and he passed the information on to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "I then learned that this person was a senior al-Qaeda figure and so was indeed bent on the destruction of innocent lives. I will never forget this meeting. It remains the worst meeting that I have ever had. I hope I never have one like it again," he said.

During his time in the devastated capital he has faced bombings and constant attacks on his congregation and church, which is now surrounded by razor wire. He travels under constant guard.

In April, he had a narrow escape when he was in a meeting with the Iraqi Human Rights Minister and the Iraqi Parliament was bombed. In an e-mail to his supporters immediately afterwards, he wrote: “The obvious tragedy and calamity makes us more determined than ever to continue with our work and to do that we need to be here. So we do not give up and continue despite all the odds against us. You can try and work for peace in safety but it can only really be achieved in the midst of the tragedy.”

Only weeks after this attack his lay pastor was kidnapped, to be released two days later after Canon White raised the $40,000 ransom.

Canon White aims to bring together political and religious leaders to seek a solution to conflict. He emphasises the necessity of engaging with the religious sectarianism that exists in the country and not to impose Western models of peace on a nation divided along religious lines.

In June, he organised a conference of more than 70 Iraqi clerics in Baghdad to foster reconciliation between Iraqi Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. After the conference he said: "This peace making business is not easy and it takes a significant amount of time and energy. Baghdad has been bad for a long time but there is no comparison to how it is now. Our congress took place at the best hotel in Baghdad, but we had no running water for three days, very little electricity and no air conditioning with a temperature of 50 degrees."

Canon White works closely with the US and British Governments in hostage negotiations, and is currently working on securing the release of the five Britons kidnapped in Baghdad in May.

In his e-mail on the day of Pentecost he wrote : “We live in hope and trust. It is hot, dangerous and pretty wonderful. The rockets are coming into the Green Zone more regularly now so the danger is more present to us than before, but for some reason I still love being here”.

Canon White is a grand commander of the order of merit of the Knights Templar of Jerusalem and was the 2005 winner of the Tannenbaum Peace Prize. He is author of ‘Iraq, Searching for Hope’, and ‘Iraq: People of Promise Land of Despair’.

For more details about his remarkable man and his work see:

See YouTube videos of Canon White:

 

 

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