Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna of Baghdad has died from kidney problems aged 67.
The bishop, who had served as priest in charge of Chaldean Catholics in Ealing, west London, for more than a decade, died on Tuesday morning in the city of Erbil in Kurdish northern Iraq. He was due to be buried in St Joseph’s Cathedral, Ankawa, near Erbil, later the same day after a funeral presided over by Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly.
Bishop Abouna, a Chaldean Catholic, became one of the best known Church leaders in Iraq following his ordination as bishop by Pope John Paul II on January 6 2003 – less than three months before the US-led invasion of his country to oust Saddam Hussein.
Throughout the war years Bishop Abouna ministered to the Christian people of the Iraqi capital who were often afflicted by sectarian attacks from Islamic militants.
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said that the bishop was a pastor who was “always smiling, even in difficult situations”.
“He was a very close friend not just to me but to so many others,” he told Aid to the Church in Need, a charity for persecuted Christians which had helped to fund Bishop Abouna’s healthcare.
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk also paid tribute: “Bishop Abouna was a very good and humble man, very open-minded,” he said.
“He really took care of each one of his priests and he always worked for the unity of the Church. I hope he can pray for us from heaven.”
Marie-Ange Siebrecht, the charity’s projects coordinator for Iraq, said: “I had the pleasure to meet Bishop Abouna many times during my visits to northern Iraq.
“He was a very spiritual person and had great concern for the priests and seminarians he was in charge of. Especially in Baghdad he played a great role among the priests to try to show them that there is a future in their country.”
Bishop Abouna was born on March 23 1943 in Bedar, a village outside the northern Iraqi town of Zakho.
He entered St Peter’s Seminary, then based in Mosul, and was ordained a priest on June 5 1966.
A year later he was appointed to a parish in Basra, southern Iraq, and four years later became pastor of St Joseph the Worker, Baghdad, where he served for 20 years.
In 1989 he became secretary to Chaldean leader Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid of Baghdad.
About two years later he moved to London to serve as priest in charge of the Chaldean and Syrian-Catholic Mission in England, a role in which he remained for 11 years.
On November 11 2002 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad and he returned to his native country the following year. In the aftermath of 2003 invasion he had to deal with bomb attacks on churches and witnessed an exodus of Christian refugees fleeing Islamist violence.
He responded to a shortage of priests by serving at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in the city’s Al Mansour district.