Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
6 May 2016
CNEWA staff

A man attends a Catholic liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, Iraq, last month.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Paul Jeffrey was one of several journalists who accompanied CNEWA chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his pastoral visit to Iraq last month. On the CNS blog today, he offers this little slice of life inside a camp for displaced Iraqis:

When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ainkawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.

In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.

I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.

When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.

In the blog post, Father Yako offers this assessment:

“As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”

Read more and see additional pictures here.