While the United States and Western Europe are struggling to limit the spread of COVID-19, some countries are facing the outbreak from a more vulnerable position. Iraq, for example, is still rebuilding after wars of recent decades, including the battle against the Islamic State group.
Christians in Iraq, already struggling to rebuild and maintain a footing in the Middle Eastern country, are seeking ways to maintain their bonds and their religion while protecting themselves and their families from the pandemic.
“We have had wars” and sectarian confessional violence, but “we have never seen such a severe and heavy curfew,” said Baghdad Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Audish Warduni, in reference to a curfew in the capital imposed by the central government from March 17 to 24.
According to the World Health Organization, as of Monday, Iraq had 124 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and nine deaths. All flights to and from Baghdad international airport have been suspended, and the country is preparing to declare a state of emergency for 30 days. Several governorates of the country have ordered the closure of borders, including Najaf, Basra, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Kerbala, as well as Erbil and Suleimanya. Schools and universities have been closed since last week; travel to countries affected by the epidemic is prohibited.
“There is an atmosphere of anguish; people are afraid, and for this reason it is essential to try to instill courage, especially now that they see the churches and mosques and schools closed,” Bishop Warduni said, according to Asia News. “Many people are asking questions; they understand that this is serious and it is compounded by a general feeling of fatigue, as little by little people isolate themselves and their families to pray.”
He lamented that Iraq had not closed its border with Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, sooner.
Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako is celebrating liturgy daily, which the patriarchate is streaming live on Facebook. The patriarch asked Catholics to “join in prayer” through which “we hope to disperse this cloud” that obscures the world. Sako also invited the faithful to follow the Way of the Cross on Friday from home.
Warduni noted that scientists are working on developing a vaccine for the virus, but in the interim, he said, “the strongest medicine is prayer, entrusting oneself to the Lord and His hands.”