Christian Iraqi children have lost everything except their belief in God
Six hundred Christian children whose families fled from ISIS in 2014 have lost everything – their homes, schools, relatives and friends, and the stability of a normal life. There is one thing however that they hung on to and which continues to grow stronger every day: their Christian faith.
It is not easy to persevere in the faith knowing the terrorists are just a few miles away but an extraordinary Frenchwoman called Carin has developed a new way of teaching catechism to help displaced Christian children in Iraq. “I think that children have the capacity to worship Jesus, to contemplate” she states.
Carin is a volunteer at a prefabricated school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Erbil, which provides education to 600 displaced Christian children. Carin was inspired to set up the catechism cases when she initially visited the school on her own for two weeks in September. The Dominican sisters running the school approved her plan and invited Carin to return for a longer, six month period. Carin returned to Erbil in January after receiving help from the international missionary-training organization FIDESCO and will stay till the end of the school year in June.
The majority of those who fled including the Sisters are now living in refugee camps in Ankawa, Erbil’s Christian suburb. Carin also lives in a camp inside one of the “containers” provided for her by the Dominican sisters, and has no income. “It’s providence that takes care of me,” she says.
Because most schools in Iraqi Kurdistan teach in the Kurdish language and the displaced children came from Mosul and the Nineveh plain villages where Arabic is the primary language, they were unable to unable to attend school the first year. However, with the building of the new school, where classes are taught in Arabic, the children are able to resume their education. The school is sustained by funding from charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Drawing on her eight years of experience as a missionary, Karin developed her own curriculum which follows the liturgical calendar, and includes special activities during Christmas and Easter. Her classes aim to provide children with the opportunity “to meet with Jesus, to give and receive his love” on a personal level, not just learn how to pray.
Karin’s curriculum includes readings from the Gospel, Eucharistic Adoration, prayers to the Holy Spirit and concrete advice for living the Gospel inside the camps where the children live. It is taught to all grades once a week inside the school’s makeshift chapel.
Each lesson is 40 minutes long and begins outside, so that the children can “prepare their heart outside” before entering the chapel. The children then say a brief prayer and sit in silence for about 10-15 minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament set on top of a table in the center of the room so they can “experience silence (and) meet Jesus in the silence”.
After a passage from the Gospel is read, the class discusses “how we can live the Gospel in daily life, because to be Christian is not only in the chapel, we have to continue in the camp.” The class ends with prayers of intercession asking “for the world as we want (it to be),” and with a prayer to Mary.
Homework is simple and practical – practicing at home what they learn in class. When the children go back to the camps “they have to continue to put the Gospel into practice” says Carin.