Bishop Antoine Audo SJ is to visit London to call for urgent assistance for Iraqi Christians who are now refugees in Syria. Bishop Audo, who is based in Aleppo, is responsible for Syria's Chaldean Catholic community. There has been a huge rise in the Chaldean population in Syria since the US-led invasion in 2003. Next Thursday, he and Suha Rassam, author of Christianity in Iraq, will be giving a press conference at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales in Eccleston Square.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that 44% of asylum seekers reaching Syria since their register started in 2003 are Christians, despite the fact that Christians form only 4% of the Iraqi population. Many families live in overcrowded conditions and have lost their livelihoods. Some rely on help from family members abroad; others meagre state rations.
Before the invasion, Iraq's Christian population was estimated to be around 800,000, the majority living in Baghdad or in and around Mosul in the north. But bombings, violence, kidnappings, and threats have forced many to flee. Bishop Audo will also be delivering a lecture and taking questions at the Centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue, Heythrop College, Kensington Square, W8, at 2pm on Wednesday, 28 November. That evening, he will be speaking at the 6pm Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, W1. Bishop Audo will be a guest of Iraqi Christians in Need (ICIN), which was set up earlier this year to provide Christians with money for food, medicine and education.
Bishop Audo was born in Aleppo in 1946 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1969. He was ordained a priest in 1979. He commenced his academic formation with a licence de lettres arabes from the University of Damascus in 1972, followed by a doctorate in contemporary Muslim political thought at the Sorbonne University, Paris in 1979. He completed his philosophical and theological formation with biblical studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and was for a time professor in biblical exegesis at University of Saint Joseph, Kaslik, Lebanon. In 1992 he was ordained Bishop of Aleppo. On 8 March 2007 Pope Benedict XVI appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.