Land Granted for Catholic Hospital, University in Iraq

A regional Iraqi government has gifted the land needed for the construction of a Catholic hospital and university in Erbil, northern Iraq.

The approval, granted Monday, was a critical phase for the building projects which have been labeled as "symbols of hope for the Christian presence" by Archbishop Bashar Warda.

"We do not want Christians to leave Iraq," Warda told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Tuesday. "It is clear that our society here needs schools, universities and hospitals and this provides us with an opportunity to encourage the Christians to build a future for themselves here."

The hospital, which is to provide 100 beds, eight operating rooms and a medical wing, will be built on an 86,111 square foot land, while a 322,917 square foot site has been allocated for the university.

Warda said the primary aim was to create jobs, as well as other opportunities for local Christians.

An estimated 334,000 Christians remain in Iraq, less than half of their number in 1991, according to Open Doors, a ministry supporting persecuted believers around the world.

The violence and discrimination against Christians, motivated by religious, political, financial and social reasons, have forced hundreds of thousands to flee the Muslim nation.

Last year, 58 Christians were killed and at least 60 injured in a terrorist attack against the Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad at the end of October.

Archbishop Warda expressed hope that the two institutions would open within the next few years but added that a fundraising campaign would be necessary before the building work could begin.