Walsh seeks to be brothers, sisters in faith to persecuted Iraqi Christians

President Collins and Archbishop Warda sign a Memorandum of Understanding between their two universities.
President Collins and Archbishop Warda sign a Memorandum of Understanding between their two universities. Photo courtesy of Walsh University.

The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a topic that has been making international headlines for over a decade. According to Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, Archbishop of Erbil (Iraq), there were 1.2 million Christians in Iraq in 2015, but the rise of ISIS took its toll. He said after ISIS left Iraq, there were only 150,000 Christians remaining, but that number has rebounded to 250,000—and nearly all of them are Catholic.

“As Iraqi Christians, decades of persecution and international neglect give the impression that we are weak, forgotten and nearly extinct,” said Archbishop Warda in an email interview. “Yes, we are persecuted, but we are not alone. We are part of a generous community of brothers and sisters in the faith. We come alive as a universal Church to live out the potential we have to remain in Iraq and sustain our light in a region known for war and corruption. Our people want to be a candle in the darkness.”

Here in the Diocese of Youngstown, we can count ourselves among their “brothers and sisters in the faith.”

Indeed, Walsh University recently formalized a relationship with the Catholic University in Erbil, which Archbishop Warda founded in 2015 to help support the young Iraqis from all faith backgrounds who could not continue their education during ISIS’ rise to power. Today, the Catholic University in Erbil is an accredited non-profit higher education and scientific research academic institution dedicated to forming the next generation of leaders.

Walsh University President Dr. Tim Collins invited Archbishop Warda to the Stark County campus in November 2022, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, designed to foster a mutually beneficial collaboration between both Catholic institutions of higher education.

The memorandum states that the universities will host groups of faculty and students from the partnering university whenever feasible, including Walsh’s support for educational trips of Iraqi students to Northeast Ohio. The two Catholic universities will collaborate to create educational opportunities for students of both institutions, including the joint pursuit of scholarships for Iraqi students to study at Walsh University online and in-person, and the development of Arabic and Aramaic language courses at Walsh—and possibly art and philosophy courses further down the road.

Walsh is one of only three universities in a relationship with the Catholic University in Erbil. The others are Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of Dallas in Texas, which also is a Catholic university.

“We are trying to build a network of five universities,” Collins said.

Walsh University in North Canton, Stark County, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Catholic University in Erbil, Iraq. Photo courtesy of Walsh University.

He started working on the memorandum with Archbishop Warda about a year before the signing in November. Collins, who came to Walsh in August of 2019, also was the senior American military officer for the U.S. Air Force in the United Arab Emirates during the time when the U.S. attacked and overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. He lived in the UAE and Saudi Arabia during his time in the Air Force, so he is familiar with the Middle East and its people.

Erbil is located in northern Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran. Collins said it is a “very peaceful and settled part of the Middle East.”

The memorandum also lays the groundwork for catechist collaborations with Walsh’s Department of Theology, campus ministry and others. He said Archbishop Warda is also working on sending two student priests to Walsh.

“Through scholarships and human support, Walsh can assist in our mission and we, in turn, offer chances for academic study and a window into the Eastern world,” said Archbishop Warda.

Archbishop Warda is a leading international voice for the persecuted Christians in Northern Iraq. During his lifetime, he founded a hospital, a humanitarian committee, four schools—including the Catholic University in Erbil—and he built three churches. Originally from Baghdad, Warda was installed as the Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Erbil in 2010.

“Archbishop Warda has been getting funding from the United States government to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, but the funding is contingent upon his relationship with American universities,” Collins explained.

“That part of the world, in terms of Christianity, goes back to the beginning of time. Archbishop Warda wants to rebuild what was always there,” Collins said. “I think of him as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, before she was well-known. Someday, everyone will know the name Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda.”

Collins said there is a Walsh faculty member considering a three- to six-month sabbatical in Erbil, and a senior who will graduate in May is thinking about going there to teach English. He said the Catholic University in Erbil will pay for the student’s housing and pay him a stipend.

“It only takes one student to go there and tell everyone what a great experience it is, for others to follow suit,” Collins said.

He plans to visit Erbil in the fall, and Archbishop Warda will deliver the commencement address at Walsh on May 6 and will also concelebrate the Baccalaureate Mass that day. During commencement ceremonies, Archbishop Warda will receive an honorary Doctorate of Theology for his lifetime achievements.

In addition, Collins is working on bringing to campus the observer to the United Nations from the Vatican for a panel discussion with Warda and Youngstown Bishop David Bonnar on the persecution of Christians.

“We are trying to elevate these issues for the folks in Northeast Ohio,” Collins said.

“We have educated and trained priests and nuns from Uganda and Tanzania in Africa. This is the same idea, just a different country,” Collins said. “Part of my focus at Walsh has been about partnerships. We are focused on international relationships. We have a partnership with Australian Catholic University in Rome, the Austrian campus of Franciscan University, Carlow College in Dublin, Ireland, and we are now finalizing plans for partnerships in Vietnam to bring a Walsh University education to Asia.”

Archbishop Warda said allying with academic institutions such as Franciscan University, University of Dallas and Walsh University will strengthen their commitment to education that promotes the dignity of man.

“The Catholic University in Erbil is expanding and quickly becoming the center for interreligious dialogue in the Middle East,” said Archbishop Warda. “ … Assistance from our three partner universities provides us the tools and deposits of knowledge to continue our mission of education for coexistence with Islam.”

He said the best way to help the Catholic University in Erbil fulfill its mission is through people. “We are searching for professors, new graduates and missionaries to show our young people that America is not Hollywood and Hollywood is not America,” said Archbishop Warda. “ … Today, we have seven international teachers at Mar Qardakh International School, a parochial school, who graduated from Franciscan University and Christendom College. Their witness has afforded students a window into the real American dream—the Catholic American dream if you will—hard work, time for prayer and devotion to service.”

Archbishop Warda said he also hopes collaborations like these will help Americans to change their perception of Iraq.

“As a talented young person once noted to me, there is not a single movie about Iraq that’s positive,” he said. “To many, Iraq is the land of war and terrorists not the land of Abraham and Isaac. As a universal Church, please remember us, pray for us and support us.”

Share To Social Media

Picture of Marly Reichert

Marly Reichert

Marly Reichert lives in Campbell with her husband, Jack, and two beagles, Simon and Sadie. She is a parishioner of St. Columba Cathedral, where she is a lector, Eucharistic minister and is on parish council. She is the metro editor at The Vindicator and Tribune Chronicle in Warren. She has one brother, Stanley Kosinski Jr., a sister-in-law, Theresa, and five nieces. She and Jack enjoy going to movies and antique stores. She has been writing for The Catholic Exponent for about 20 years. She loves mystery novels and watching "The Price is Right."
Related Stories

Stay up to date with all new things happening at the Diocese of Youngstown. Subscribe to our Newsletter here.

Cookie policy
We use our own and third party cookies to allow us to understand how the site is used and to support our marketing campaigns.