Last night, ITV broadcast an hour-long programme on the work of Canon Andrew White, otherwise known as The Vicar of Baghdad
I first got to know Andrew in 2005, and was subsequently invited to join the board of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, by his close friend and mentor, Lord Carey.
I included Andrew among the 36 tsaddikim (righteous people) on this blog:
Number 18, in fact, which means 'chai' or 'life' in Hebrew.
I included Andrew among my group of tsaddikim, because he came up to Manchester and during a meeting held at my home, encouraged the Bishops in Greater Manchester to work with me on interfaith issues. We even organised a book launch for him at Manchester's Anglican Cathedral, in conjunction with its Canon Theologian, Dr. Andrew Shanks.
Later Andrew phoned me umpteen times from the Iraqi desert in order to voice his grave concern at the February 2006 Synod vote to divest from an Israeli bulldozer company:
On the programme Andrew talked about churches in Palestine which still use Jesus' language of Aramaic. I wonder which churches those are. I must ask him.
The programme provided a first by making the case for the war against Iraq extremely forcefully. Andrew also thinks that, bad as things are at the moment, ultimately they will get better for the people of Iraq.
He also loves Iraq because he says that so much of the Bible was written there:
He came out with unique one-liners, such as:
'God can even come to the State Department', and has managed to get American and Iraqi Christians together. Quite a feat in the Middle East.
But, he reiterates that 'our work is about dealing with enemies, even if they are very very bad'.
His home in Iraq is a portakabin. In England it is more luxurious, with a wonderful study, in which there is Jewish wall, a Christian wall and a Muslim wall.
Despite hard questioning, he emphatically denied being influenced in any way by the Pentagon, and in fact stated the reverse: that they listen to him.
His church is situated (ironically perhaps) on Haifa St, which he considers to be the most dangerous street in Iraq. On one occasion, he found 60 bodies just hanging up en route to church.
Yes, it's dangerous being a Christian in Iraq, but Andrew loves the work. Somehow, you can't see him settling down to a pastoral role in southern England. He would get bored and just infuriate people. Plus, to many he comes over as more of a politician than a cleric.
But he gets things done. That's for sure. A very bold and brave man - one of a kind.