The Vicar of Baghdad and his Pelikan
The Reverend, Canon, Dr Andrew White has, over the years, been a pivotal figure in the fight for peace and religious tolerance in the Middle East. Having spent his early career practising anaesthetics, he moved into Theology in the 1990s and was appointed a canon of Coventry Cathedral in 1998.
It was in subsequent years Canon White utilised his pastoral acumen in the promotion of reconciliation in (mainly) religious conflicts across the globe. His work drew him towards the Middle East, namely Iraq, and he had soon earned the moniker, ‘The Vicar of Baghdad.’
Canon White became famed for his key mediation work in what was a perpetually hostile war zone. Overcoming personal threats to his own safety, his efforts in re-establishing dialogue between conflicting groups, including hostage situations are particularly poignant, especially when you account for the rise of ISIS in the early 2010s.
We are humbled to count Canon White as a loyal customer of ours at Niche Pens. Many may not be aware of his love for fountain pens, particularly Pelikans. In fact, you may even be able to spot a Pelikan resting in the pocket of his suit jacket, in several TV interviews viewable across the internet.
We were extremely honoured to receive a fascinating story penned by the Canon. And we are truly delighted to be able to share this story with you below:
My Pelikan Souverän M1000
I bought my first Pelikan in the year 2000, as a gift to myself. Up until that point, I had been using a Montblanc, but had come to regret that choice, as it didn’t write particularly smoothly, and I also did not like the nib width.
I began to do some research in an effort to find the right pen for me. At that point in my career, I wasn’t aware of any other Pelikan users, so was relying on my own intuition and research when I identified the Souverän M1000. It was green and gold-plated with a Triple Broad nib.
I bought the pen in the Oxford pen shop opposite Christchurch College, although being a Cambridge-fellow I would have much preferred it had the shop been in Cambridge!
A few years after purchasing the pen, I came across Niche Pens in Newport, Gwent. They remain the best Pelikan retailer in the UK to this day, and they also offer servicing and maintenance.
I always wrote with dark chocolate brown ink because I enjoyed the more natural antique look. It seemed quite literary and historic in its appearance. However, in 2004 I experienced a significant colour change.
The Iraqi government used green ink as its official political colour. The Prime Minister always wrote with red and political leaders in senior circles used green ink. In order to write in green ink, one required formal recognition and permission from the Prime Minister.
In 2004, I was authorised by Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, to write in green ink. This was because I had the highest ex-patriot profile in Iraq, having been one of the few people who had been dialoguing with political leaders several years prior to the 2003 war. This had been due to my significant religious and political involvement in the Middle East.
From 2004 onwards, green ink was required for the signing of official documentation such as Coalitional Provisional Authority documents. I was chaplain to the US Embassy Chapel and the pen was used in many US Embassy meetings, key political discussions and in White House board meetings where my presence was required.
On 5th November 2006 (a memorable day for us Brits), Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death and was scheduled to be executed on 30th December. On the morning of the 5th, I received a visit to my office from the Iraqi governing council. It seemed quite urgent and they said to me, “Abouna (‘Father’ in Arabic), you have the best pen in Iraq and the Prime Minister has asked me if he could borrow it today.”
I knew this was an important request and that I could not say “no,” though I had no idea what my cherished Pelikan pen was about to be used for. I also thought that I would probably have to allow Prime Minister Al-Malaki to keep the pen as a gift - to let people of significance to keep hold of things they borrow is something that is custom in the Middle East.
I had my spare black Pelikan pen that I always carried with me, but this green and gold one was my favourite and I really did not wish to part with it. However, as evening arrived, I finally realised what my pen was being used for and in the dramatic circumstances of its ‘loan,’ I did not hesitate to ask for it back. In its place, I gave my black one to the Prime Minister, which he was delighted to receive.
Why did I want my pen back so urgently?
Firstly, because it was my favourite pen of all time, but perhaps more significantly, as I had put the news on that night to catch the headlines, to my utter bewilderment, I saw my pen in the hand of the Prime Minister signing the death sentence of Saddam Hussein – before the cameras of the world. As I watched in both disbelief and relief, I immediately thought to myself, “I need that pen back!”
For me it is no longer a pen, but an emblem of my life and work. It is a sign of the overcoming of evil and the ongoing fight for justice and peace in the face of great tyranny.
Now, years later, my green and gold Souverän with Triple Broad nib still travels with me literally all over the globe. To churches, universities, conferences, embassies, weddings and parliamentary gatherings. It is the object of my affection, a symbol of victory and still the best pen that I have ever possessed. It still only ever writes with green ink and I am very grateful to my Welsh friends at Niche Pens for maintaining and restoring it as time goes on.
God bless you all,
The Reverend, Canon, Dr Andrew PB White (Former Vicar of Baghdad)