Iraqi Christians have now lost all hope of returning to their homes
” Christians have now lost any hope of returning soon to their homes.” So the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, described the mood of his faithful during a visit to the headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need in Germany.
More than a year after the massive exodus of Christians from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain “nobody indulges in false illusions about the possibility that the territories in the hands of ISIS can be freed soon.” Meanwhile, the Church tries to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the population and help Christians remain in Iraq. “When they see the many efforts we make to help them, they are less likely to emigrate,” says Archbishop Warda.
However, many Christian families continue to flee their homeland. Of 13,500 families of faithful recorded last year in the diocese of Erbil, today there are only 10,000. According to the prelate, news from Europe is encouraging the flight of Christians abroad: “On television they see the huge flow of refugees arriving in European countries and are convinced that the gates of the Old Continent are wide open. And certainly it makes our attempt to convince them to stay in Iraq much more difficult.”
The Church continues to give assistance to the thousands of Christian refugees, providing humanitarian aid and pastoral care. “Thanks to the support of Aid to the Church in Need people are no longer living in tents, like last year, when over 120,000 Christians forced to flee their homes by Islamic State came to Erbil”. Since June 2014, Aid to the Church in Need donated over 11 million euro to the Iraqi Church , part of which was used for the purchase and installation of prefabricated houses and the renting of some apartments for Christian families.
“Furthermore, ACS has given 8 prefabricated schools, thanks to which all refugee children of Erbil now receive instruction.” The distribution of food is carried out regularly now. Each month, all families receive food supplies for at least thirty days: rice, sugar, oil, beans, meat, cheese and water. ACS support continues, giving an average of 120,000 Euros per month just for this project.
Beside the practical support, the diocese also ensures pastoral care. “We have recently organized a Festival of Faith, which was attended by 1,200 people. I was deeply moved by the stories I heard. When our brothers in faith were forced to flee, they have not only lost their homes, but also the their joy, their confidence, their dreams. ” The closeness of the Church, expressed by the love and care of priests and religious has helped Christians to have courage and to maintain a strong faith.
However, looking to the future, Archbishop Warda feared that the number of Christians in Iraq may continue to decline. “We do what we can to prevent it. We Iraqi Christians belong to this land.”