Iraq’s only Anglican priest visits US to inform Episcopalians about his church’s ministries

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted May 15, 2023

The Rev. Faiz Basheer Jerjes embraces some of the children who attend school at St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo: Courtesy of Stand With Iraqi Christians

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Faiz Basheer Jerjes, the only Anglican priest serving the only Anglican Church in Iraq, is in the middle of a visit to the United States, where he’s sharing the story of his church and its ministries through a series of events.

Jerjes is accompanied by Sinan Hannah Karakash, chief administrator of St. George’s Church.  Their trip is co-sponsored by The Episcopal Church’s Office of Global Partnerships and Stand With Iraqi Christians, an Episcopal nonprofit that serves to financially and spiritually support Christians in Iraq. 

“[Stand With Iraqi Christians] is thrilled to welcome Canon Faiz and Sinan Hannah to the United States, primarily to raise awareness within The Episcopal Church of the powerful ministries of our church in Iraq,” Buck Blanchard, co-chair of SWIC, told Episcopal News Service. “Their work provides healing to the people of Iraq, both spiritually and practically.”

On May 17, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Global Partnerships will host a webinar at 2 p.m. Eastern. It’s an opportunity to listen to Jerjes speak about St. George’s ministries and how to curb religious extremism in Iraq, which is a predominantly Shia Muslim country with multiple religious minority groups, including Yazidis and Zoroastrians in addition to Christians.

Jerjes was born in Baghdad into a Syriac Christian family. He was ordained a deacon in 2011 and became the first Iraqi national to be ordained an Anglican priest a year later. St. George’s Church is part of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

St. George’s Church in Baghdad is home to a couple of hundred Christians. Jerjes said that supporting Iraqi Christians will help minimize their suffering, “and they may stay in [Iraq] because they will have a decent life.”

“I have chosen [to visit] the United States because the United States is directly involved with the Iraqi situation; the whole system has changed since the moment the United States started the war in 2003,” Jerjes told ENS through Karakash, who is serving as his interpreter. “I am looking to find resources for St. George so that we can have a Christian community exactly as it was in the past.”

An estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq before the U.S.-led war in Iraq started in 2003. Over the last 20 years much of the Christian community has fled Iraq to escape violence and persecution, and now that number is approximated to be in the hundreds of thousands or less and continues to dwindle even though the war officially ended in 2011. St. George’s Church was badly damaged by bombings during the war. The COVID-19 pandemic and ISIS have exacerbated the situation.

Through its church-based interfaith ministries, St. George’s Church provides free medical and dental care to the community, as well as an elementary school for children. The church also has a resource center with books and computer access for students, and it frequently hosts interfaith activities for the community.

Hearing Jerjes’ story firsthand about St. George’s Church in the context of ministry will help develop relationships as Christians learn from one another, the Rev. Paul Feheley, The Episcopal Church’s Middle East partnership officer, told ENS. He said he hopes the new dialogue will lead to empathy.

“It’s not just about [Westerners] shifting dollars to the church in Iraq, but it’s also about developing these relationships,” Feheley said. “I recently worshiped with people at St. George’s; it was all in Arabic, a language I don’t speak, but nevertheless because there’s a unity about Eucharist that goes around the world, it was easy to follow, and I knew where in the Mass they were … Like the invitation from Jesus to the disciples in John chapter one, ‘Come and see.’”

Jerjes is visiting several Episcopal churches, non-governmental organizations, government officials and other organizations this month to inform people about the struggles Christians face in Iraq and share how they can help support St. George’s ministries.

While in Washington, D.C., last week, Jerjes spoke at in-person forums at Washington National Cathedral and Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes; he also spoke at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral in Pennsylvania on May 15. On May 21, he will speak at Saint Bartholomew’s Church and on May 22 Church of the Holy Trinity, both in New York City.

Feheley said that both donating money to St. George’s Church and reaching out to members of Congress as legislation affecting people in Iraq comes through are examples of tangible ways to help the Iraqi people.

“If you’re going to be a Christian, then you can’t ignore the many Biblical things Jesus said about caring for other people,” Feheley said. “It’s very easy to comfortably sit back and do nothing, but we can’t ignore what the call is we’re commissioned to do by baptism, what we’re called to do by the eucharist. So, we need to use a faith-in-action approach to prayer and supporting the people in Iraq.”

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-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.