giovedì, giugno 27, 2013

 

Strengthening young Iraqis' Christian identity

By Aid to the Church in Need
by Oliver Maksan

Since the War in 2003 Iraq has lost more than half of its previously 900,000 Christians. More than 1,000 of them were killed in bloody attacks and hundreds of thousands fled abroad. Nevertheless Christian life goes on in Mesopotamia.
Father Jens Petzold, a German, even founded a monastery here last year. "Archbishop Sako of Kirkuk, the present Patriarch of the Chaldean-Catholic Church, invited us in 2011 to come to Suleymaniye. We gladly accepted." Since February 2012 the Father from the Syrian-Catholic "Al Khalil" community has been building a monastery in the Kurdish metropolis in north-eastern Iraq. An old rectory is being converted for this purpose.
Many Christians from Bagdad and the south of Iraq have fled from the terror attacks in Bagdad to the autonomous Kurdish regions. The security situation is stable here. More and more Christians are even coming to the north from Bagdad. "They don't only come for security reasons. In many cases they're simply no longer able to afford the rents in the capital since speculation has caused these to explode," Father Jens explains. "For some time now a large number of foreign Christians have also been coming to Suleymaniye as guest workers. They number about 400 at the present time. They work here as domestic staff, in oil companies or on the large construction sites. They come from, among others, Eritrea, the Philippines, Bangladesh or Great Britain. I look after them on behalf of the church community." In the up-and-coming metropolis of Suleymaniye with a million inhabitants, the small Christian community is of course hardly noticeable, despite the fact that it is growing in numbers. Today it has 1,500 members.
"It's true. We are few in number. But in the immediate vicinity of our church we are known. We Christians here in this quarter enjoy an excellent relationship with our neighbours." For example, Father Jens told how a Christian widow had been supported by the Muslim women in the neighbourhood. And how, when an old Christian woman died, her burial was attended by many of her Muslim neighbours. He himself had experienced time and again the Muslims' interest in the Christian faith and way of life. "A classic situation is where taxi drivers who see me in my monk's habit want to know why we, as members of religious orders, never marry. They have heard of this, but they find it difficult to understand celibacy. I then try to explain that Islam also involves periods of abstinence, such as during Ramadan. In Iraq there are also Sufi communities who lead celibate lives."

But religious vocation was by no means something that Father Jens was born with. He had travelled a long spiritual road. "I come from an old Berlin socialist family who wanted nothing to do with religion. And so I wasn't baptised. My great-grandparents were the first to leave the Church. But my hunger for meaning was already there. I not only sought this in Christian mysticism. At some point my way led me to the Syrian desert monastery of Mar Musa. Here I had intense experiences of Christ in religious exercises. It is here that I arranged to be baptised in 1996. A little later I even entered the monastery. In the Holy Year 2000 I took my final vows in Mar Musa."
The "Al Khalil" community, which originated there, today contains a total of 13 sisters and brothers. The Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall'Oglio was the founder. The dialogue between Islam and Christianity constitutes its charisma. Father Jens: "We invoke the Patriarch Abraham, the Friend of God, in Arabic “Al Khalil”. He is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. We want to try and enter into a genuine dialogue with local Islam here in Iraq as well. After all we intend to be here for a long time."

The hope there would be Iraqis who felt the calling to join the community has not been fulfilled to date. But Father Jens is still confident. "Regardless of whether young people join us or not, it is important to give them spiritual support and strengthen their Christian identity." He sees a great spiritual longing in young Iraqi Christians. "For the coming summer I am planning a camp with about 30 young people between 16 and 28 years of age. Many of them are seminarians. Others are working in their parishes as catechists. We want to live together for a week, reading the Bible and exploring the beautiful natural surroundings of Suleymaniye." This is aided considerably by the new car the community purchased two months ago with the help of the Catholic pastoral charity "Aid to the Church in Need". "I wish to thank all donors very sincerely. "Aid to the Church in Need" is already helping our community to have one of our Fathers trained in Rome. The car is something practical, but indispensable. In Iraq you can't get anywhere without a car. Using public transport takes up a lot of time." And Father Jens says he prefers to use this time to build up the monastery and conduct his pastoral work.


Film overview: Although Christians make up only 2% of the population in Iraq, the UN High Commission for Refugees reports that they make up 40% of the 1.6 million Iraqis in search of asylum abroad. This striking disproportion is caused by the persecution and almost total lack of protection suffered by Iraqi Christians: Since 2003 about 2,000 Christians have been killed in multiple waves of violence throughout the country. Their number has plummeted from 900,000 before the war in 2003, down to approximately 200,000 today. Of those who remain in the country, many are internally displaced. Many Christians from Bagdad and the south of Iraq have fled from the terror attacks in Bagdad to the autonomous Kurdish regions in the North of Iraq.
Most Rev. Bashar Matti Warda, C.SS.R. Chaldean Archbishop of Arbil, Iraq is interviewed in the film about this large migration and the pastoral pressure it is creating to minster to this ever growing community of believers.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?