'Vicar of Baghdad' cares for all Christians, 'no matter what faith'

This interview was one I will not forget. This week, I spoke to the Rev. Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who is pastor of St. George's Church. That sounds rather ordinary until you learn that his church is in Baghdad, Iraq. In fact, it is the only Anglican church in all of Iraq.

He has been dubbed the "vicar of Baghdad" by those who know him and his work. As I interviewed him, I began to realize that he runs more than a church; the compound includes a school and health care center. He is also the founder and president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, which promotes interfaith dialogue and provides humanitarian relief in some situations.

I also began to realize that he is a truly extraordinary human being. When we discussed the suffering of the people of Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State, he choked up. "No matter what faith," he said, "these are my people." His caring was palpable.

Interestingly, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 33, and for a long time, had a great deal of trouble walking or talking. Now, at his own clinic, he is getting stem cell treatments that have changed his life -- in Baghdad, no less. So are hundreds of others. I understand that the stem cells come from his own body. He walks and speaks a bit haltingly, but he is able to function quite well.

What shocked me most during the interview was his reporting on the Christians of Iraq, who include not only Anglicans but Catholics, Orthodox and various Protestant and evangelical groups, as well. The threat of the Islamic State, especially against the city of Nineveh, where most Christians lived, has forced tens of thousands of them to flee Iraq proper and go to Kurdistan. White himself has been the victim of kidnapping, and he says, "I live with a price on my head."

And White is not just a Christian pastor; he is a leader of interfaith relations in Iraq. His chief assistant at the health care center is a Muslim woman who is a dentist, Dr. Sarah Ahmed. He works to quell the hatred between Sunnis and Shiites, and he has been involved in Jewish/Palestinian dialogue. He has a deep concern for the Yazidis, who were driven out of their home territory by the Islamic State.

Not surprisingly, he was given the Anne Frank Award's Special Recognition for Religious Tolerance and Reconciliation while he was in the United States. Well deserved.

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