Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of CNEWA, writes about his trip to Iraq in the latest edition of Catholic New York:
I first returned from a visit to Kurdistan, an autonomous region within the nation of Iraq. Why did I go? Well, for one, because my brother bishops there invited me to come. Two, because the Christian community there is family, a family in a lot of trouble, with much adversity, and to visit them is a very good thing.
They have asked, “Does anyone know of our plight? Have people forgotten us!” I wanted to visit them and answer, “yes” and “no.”
You know of their sorrows. ISIS has as their mission to exterminate the ancient tiny Christian minority, who have been there since the time of the apostles, long before Islam. There, Christian communities are small in size, but big in faith, tradition, worship, education, and charity.
They only want to be left in peace, in their villages, to raise their families and practice their religion. Fanatics have slaughtered them, and driven them from their homes.
Now they are called IDPs — “internally displaced persons.” They walked days from their homes in Mosul and their villages in the Plains of Nineveh, to sanctuary in Erbil and Dohuk, two major cities in Kurdistan, where they have been welcomed heroically.
One renowned agency that is helping the local Church care for them is the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), headquartered here in New York. Bishop William Murphy and I are board members. Along with Monsignor John Kozar, the president, we went to visit these affected people in Kurdistan.
Were we saddened by what we saw? You bet we were! Brave people, tens of thousands, given hours to flee their homes (or have their throats slit, or convert to Islam). They knew there were Catholics and Orthodox Christians relatively safe in Kurdistan, so they walked the two-day journey there, carrying their babies, a few sacks of possessions, propping up their elders, accompanied by their priests and religious sisters.
To see their tears, their anguish, their situation, and to hear their plea over and over, “We just want to go home!” saddened us for sure.
But we were also deeply moved by our visit. The Christians in Kurdistan, often in partnership with Islamic neighbors, have welcomed them. They have camps for them, with food, medical care, clothing, blankets, and schools. Priests, nuns, and devoted lay leaders have embraced them. This charity inspired us.
As did their faith.