Iraq – Signs of Hope
Nearly 500 displaced Iraqi children made their First Communion in a refugee camp in Erbil, providing a silver lining to an otherwise bleak situation.
5,500 people now live in the Erbil Camp for the displaced and the majority of them – more than 2000 – are children. Of these 470 made their first communion during May and June.
The number of children receiving the sacrament is up from last year’s class, which numbered about 400. Since this year’s number of recipients is so high, the children were divided into three groups who made their communion in consecutive weeks.
All of the children were from the Syriac-Catholic rite, and most fled the city of Qaraqosh, the former Christian capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with their families when ISIS militants attacked on the night of August 6th, 2014.
The Eucharists were celebrated by the Syriac-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Yohanno Petros Moshe in the camp’s large, prefabricated church. With a capacity for roughly 800 people, the church started out as a tent when the Christian refugees first poured into Erbil two years ago, asking for a place to pray. Now it serves as the main parish for the city’s Aishty camp, which is the largest in Erbil and is divided into three smaller camps: Aishty 1, 2 and 3.
The majority of people in the camp are from Qaraqosh, which is where the former See of their Church had been located before the ISIS assault. After moving the official See of their Church from Mosul to Qaraqosh several years ago due to security concerns and the fact that most of the faithful resided in the city, Syriac-Catholics have now been left without any official diocese or headquarters. Now residing in a largely Chaldean dominated Erbil, they have been welcomed by the local Church and are working daily to keep up the spirits of their faithful, who face an uncertain future in the country. For nearly 500 children to receive their first Communion in the camp is a sign of hope in a place where the flame of Christianity is flickering and growing dangerously closer to burning out. Another sign of hope for Iraq’s Christians was the March ordination of four deacons in the same prefabricated parish. They are now working with refugees around the clock, and will likely be ordained priests by the time this is published.
Three of the deacons, alongside the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena - who largely make up the backbone of Erbil’s extensive displaced Christian community – have been in charge of teaching the children’s catechesis in scripture and liturgy.
Edited from The Olive Branch, published by the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, May 2016.