BUDAPEST, Hungary — Assyrian Iraqi Christian Pascale Warda was not deterred when would-be assailants tried to kill her five times, vowing instead to bring the light of good governance to her nation stricken by the aftermath of war.
As minister for immigration and refugees in the Iraqi interim government that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Warda was regarded as a fierce warrior against corruption in a Muslim-majority government, serving from 2004 to 2005 as one of the very few Christians and women in the first government that followed the ousting of Saddam Hussein.
A married mother of two adult children, Warda now works for the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, an organization she co-founded in 2005 with her husband, William, to help forge better relations between Iraq’s minorities. Their work was recognized by the U.S. State Department in July this year when it awarded them one of its inaugural International Religious Freedom Awards, which recognize “extraordinary advocates of religious freedom from around the world.”
Speaking to the Register on Nov. 27 in Budapest, where she was attending the Second International Conference on Christian Persecution, Warda recounts those attempts on her life, explains how her faith helped her get through them, and how her “apostolic formation” equipped her to battle against corruption against all odds.
What exactly happened when attempts were made on your life, and how much did your faith help you through those times?
It’s important to see faith is a part of you; it’s not something you can take or leave from somewhere. It’s your life. It’s not a question of: “Ah, I will be Christian or not Christian; I’m very Christian now, and afterward I’m not a Christian.” No, no — even when I don’t speak about Christianity or Christian issues, what I do or say has a Christian perspective, even subconsciously, because I’ve grown up like that. I grew up Christian and was educated a Christian.
A French journalist was staying with me and writing a “day in the life” of me as a minister. We got in the car with many bodyguards, and he said: “You’re in danger! How do you feel? You are not afraid?” I said: “Afraid, yeah, maybe, but to stop, no. Nothing will stop me.” “How can you go?” he asked, and he was afraid to go with me. I said, “As you like, you can stay at home. I will go.” “What is making you go?” he asked. “Nobody is making me go, just this: In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and I go. Jesus told me not to fear, and so I will not fear. If I’m ever called to be a martyr, so be it. I am here for that. If Jesus wants that, I’ll be in the service of all these people who are living in great darkness, bringing them a little of his light.” “No one speaks like this,” he said. “I said, ‘Yes they do, and yet you’re French, but you say this as though it’s from the 13th century. Well, it’s our life today.’”
Christians are here amid this bad situation and all the history we have, but we are always considered, even by our Muslim brothers, as lights in this country. So we will stay with them, we will work for them, and we will change their lives for the better.
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