IRAQ – Ordination of new priests in refugee camp brings joy to displaced Christians there


Three young deacons, who were themselves displaced when ISIS attacked their seminary in Qaraqosh, have just been ordained  priests of the Syriac-Catholic in the large, prefabricated church inside Erbil’s Aishty 2 camp, which is home to 5,500 displaced people forced to flee their homes when ISIS invaded the region. Archbishop Yohanno Petros Moshe, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan, celebrated their ordination Mass. Although the church only holds about 800 people, about 1,500 turned up for the ordination including relatives of the new priests who travelled from Baghdad, Aqrah and other cities. Earlier this year when the young men were first ordained as deacons they had specifically requested for the ordination to take place in this refugee camp church rather than in a cathedral in a gesture of solidarity with other displaced Iraqis  in the camp.

The new priests have experienced the horror of terrorism themselves before being forced to leave Qaraqosh. Fr Momica and his sister were among mainly Christian college students who were wounded in 2010 when buses transporting them from the Plains of Nineveh to the University of Mosul were bombed. After the 2014 attack by ISIS the Qaraqosh seminary was closed and seminarians there were sent to finish their studies at the Al-Sharfa Seminary in Harissa, Lebanon. On completing their studies in Lebanon, they returned to Iraq for their deaconate ordination. Paul decided to serve in Baghdad and was ordained there last month.

Fr Roni Salim Momika, who was ordained in Aishty alongside his friends and fellow deacons Emad and Petros, said the event has turned the dreary mood of displaced Christians in the camp into one of joy. “My feeling is happy, happy!” Fr. Momika exclaimed, adding that he felt “something inside” that made him deeply joyful. The ordination, he said, “will give hope to (the people)”, mostly Syriac Catholics from Qaraqosh, who have been forced to live as refugees in the camp for two years and encourage them to remain in their homeland.

Fr Momika has been working with the youth and led the women’s groups inside Erbil’s refugee camps. The priest said that he would like to remain in Erbil and continue to serve in that capacity, but it’s up to Archbishop Moshe to decide “if I will stay here or not” in the long run. As a newly ordained priest surrounded by violent persecution, Fr. Momika declared that he wanted “to stand with the refugees” despite the “the danger (in their) lives.” He said he wants to give the Christians “power, hope, and courage to continue their lives and stay with the poor people” and those who are suffering, adding that for him, the essence of his role and vocation is “to give Christ to the people.”

Fr Momika noted that their ordination on 6 Aug marks the exact two-year anniversary since ISIS attacked his hometown of Qaraqosh and drove out all  its inhabitants who were faced with the demand to convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or be killed. “We left Qaraqosh during this time two years ago,” he said, explaining that it’s been “a time of challenge” and “a time of sadness” for the Christians.

However, while the anniversary could serve as a reminder of the bleak and uncertain reality for Christians in Iraq, the sight of three young men being ordained to the priesthood has instead made it “a happy time, a hopeful time, and a good time”. He added “Before it was a bad day because we became refuges and ISIS entered Qaraqosh, but now this day became a good day because it’s our ordination and we give hope to our people,” including the hope “to stay here.”

ACN Malta