IRAQ – Refugee children make First Communion in Erbil camp
There is a moment of joy in the bleakness of life for displaced Iraqi Christians. A record number of refugee children are making their First Communion in a refugee camp in Erbil. Out of the 5,500 people living in Erbil’s Aishty 2 camp for the displaced, the majority – more than 2,000 – are children. Of these, 470 will make their First Communion in the coming weeks. All of the children are from the Syriac-Catholic rite.
Because the number of children receiving First Communion is up from last year’s class, which numbered about 400, the children have been divided into three groups. The first, numbering around 175, made their First Communion on Friday, 27May. A second group of about 145 will receive the Eucharist on 3 June, while the third and final group of about 150 will do soon Friday, 10June.
The May 27 Mass for the first group was celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Yohanno Petros Moshe in the camp’s large, prefabricated church which was built with aid from ACN. 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.
Most of the children fled with their families from the city of Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, when IS jihadists attacked the city in August 2014. After moving the official See of their Church from Mosul to Qaraqosh several years ago due to both 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 whatsoever. 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 country where the flame of Christianity is flickering, 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 church. They are now working with refugees around the clock, and will likely be ordained priests in a few months’ time. Three of the deacons, alongside the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena – who are key workers among Erbil’s extensive displaced Christian community – have been in charge of teaching the children’s catechesis in scripture and liturgy.