CNA’s Elise Harris had a chance to interview Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop William Murphy as they completed their pastoral visit to Iraq:
As he leaves Iraqi Kurdistan, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said what struck him most during the visit were the people’s faith and hope, despite violent persecution.
“These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my, oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding,” Cardinal Dolan said in an interview with CNA.
“Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.”
Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York and chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
He was joined by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, a CNEWA board member, for a three-day visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he toured projects aimed at helping refugees and met with families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of the 2014 Islamic State attacks.
The trip included visits to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and to the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. It concluded with a Mass celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, in which representatives of several other rites were present, including the Latin and Chaldean rites, as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy spoke to CNA in a sit-down interview on the last day of the trip to share their thoughts and reflections about what they had seen and experienced.
What are your impressions after spending these days here in Iraq?
Cardinal Dolan: I would find my impression would be on both sides. First of all there’s an impression of sadness and sobriety in what these people have gone through. They’ve lost their homes, their homes that have been in their families for centuries, centuries and centuries, alright. They’ve lost a sense of security, they’ve lost in many ways a sense of stability that is so necessary for human existence. So there is an undeniable sense of sadness and somberness. But then I jump ahead to the other side of the spectrum to say that they haven’t lost their sense of hope. They haven’t lost their faith. We’ve heard people cry out in anguish, but they always have a sense of hope.
And I can’t get over it.
I mean look, you were at the liturgy yesterday. You talk about joyful, reverent, grateful prayer and praise, trusting in God. Of all people you’d think they would be almost dour in Mass. You’d wonder if some of them would be tempted not to come anymore because they were so crushed. We have our parishes at home for Sunday Mass where sometimes there’s a sense of heaviness and people don’t seem interested, and we’ve got prosperity, we’ve got peace, we’ve got stability. These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding. And I see it in the priests, I see it in the sisters, I see it in the lay leaders, I see it in my brother bishops. Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.
Is there a specific moment that was particularly moving for you?
Bishop Murphy and I have shared a number of them, and when we process this it’s amazing that we both have felt the same thing. One would be the desire of people just to go back home. Just to go back home. They’re not saying ‘take us to America.’ They’re saying ‘we just want to go back home, can you help us get back home?’ And number two, the second I think, would be that sense of hope and promise. They’re so resilient that their kind of making the best of what they’ve got. They have this trust in God and they say ‘we wanna go back home, we don’t know how long we’re going to be in exile, but let’s make the best of it. Let’s tend to the basics of faith, education, healthcare, food, shelter, protecting our kids. That’s basic civilization, that’s basic solidarity and they’re doing it magnificently.
As a journalist I sometimes find that people read the news and move on. How can we convince people to continue to be interested and invested in what’s happening here?
Bishop Murphy: One of the things is [that] I’ve been doing blogs each day. They’re not as long as a column, but you get them out. Everybody who’s on that website will see this regularly. Another thing we did was last year, we announced that in the middle of the summer, July-August, that weekend would be Middle East weekend. So we did what we Catholics do and took up another collection (laughs). But we were able to get some more money out of that, and I think we just need to take opportunities like that and call the attention of people to it. Then some people respond and you’ll find some groups will respond. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said: you start it with one, then another, then a third and fourth, and before you know it you have a movement. And I think we should really be encouraging those who catch on to this. To start to do some things on their own that would be helpful. We can’t be the only voice, for example, in Washington. We can be a voice, but we’re just the bishops. Take the decision on Christian genocide. What made the difference there? It wasn’t the fact that the names of x-amount of bishops were there, it was the fact that all of the sudden, people picked up on it. I’m not saying that’s changing things radically, but it’s another force for good.