“At night we often hear gunfire. But luckily we are quite a
bit away from the fighting,” Father Steven says.
the town of Alqosh is only 10 miles away from the front line, where the heavily
armed Kurdish Peshmerga forces and ISIS fighters are facing off.
weather is good, you can see the Christian towns on the Nineveh Plane that are
now under ISIS control. “Back there is my village Batnaya,” the Chaldean priest
says, pointing in the direction of the once Christian community. “I was the
last to leave Batnaya. The jihadists arrived shortly thereafter.”
priests and religious have been made homeless in the past year. They not only
lost their convents, churches and monasteries, but also schools and children’s
homes—the entire infrastructure of an apostolate built up over many years.
lost 23 of our monasteries and houses,” Sister Suhama tells international
Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. The Dominican nun now lives in a
development of terraced houses near Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.
“We were 26
nuns in Qaraqosh alone. We led a flourishing community life there. Some of our
sisters are having trouble getting over the loss. At night they dream of soon
being able to return.” A fellow nun of Sister Suhama cries quietly as she
listens. Fourteen older sisters have died of sheer sorrow since they fled.
The people need
to feel that the Church remains close to them, the nun emphasizes. “It is our
job to be with our people. I don’t believe it will happen, but should the day
come on which the last Christian leaves Iraq: we priests and nuns will be the
last to leave.”
Martin and Randi have also lost their homes. The young men are now studying at
the seminary in Erbil. “ISIS has strengthened our vocation,” Randi says with
deep conviction. “It is fortunate that the people have survived. That shows me
that God is a God of life and not of property and objects. God is taking care
of us,” he says.
The Chaldean from Karamlish, a town near Qaraqosh, is already a deacon. “I only
want to be consecrated as a priest when I can celebrate the first Mass in my
village. I realize that this may take months or longer.” Deacon Martin has
consciously made the decision to remain in Iraq, even though his parents are in
the US and could easily bring him over: “My place is here. This is where I want
to serve the people.”
feels bound to stay put and serve the faithful: “Our flock may be even smaller
in the future, we Christians still have an important job to do here. We have to
rebuild our country. Despite everything, we have to learn how to live with the
Muslims again. We have to teach our children to respect and esteem the other.”
Aid to the
Church in Need supports religious, priests and seminarians who have been forced
to flee from ISIS. This is achieved by Mass stipends for priests as well as
direct emergency aid for housing and other essential provisions.