14 February 2017
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets displaced Iraqis after the eucharistic liturgy in Erbil.
(photo: Paul Jeffrey)
One of the more energetic and visible advocates for CNEWA’s work among the persecuted and the poor has been the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. His support has been tireless and, indeed, heroic.
In his capacity as CNEWA’s chair, the cardinal has visited a number of regions we serve, to meet those who are facing challenges and difficulties far removed from his work in New York City.
Just last year, he traveled with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre to Erbil, where he met some of the Iraqi Christians who have been displaced by ISIS — men, women and children who have been literally running for their lives.
He spoke about that visit in an interview with the National Catholic Register:
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Last summer, ONE published a photo essay, chronicling the cardinal’s visit. As we noted then:
“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people,” Cardinal Dolan said in his meeting with seminarians. “We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside.
“We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus: To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times.”
That closeness to people is emblematic of Cardinal Dolan’s priesthood. And again and again during that visit, it was striking to see how eagerly he embraced those he met — and how joyfully the people in the camps reached out to embrace him and make him feel welcome. In the true spirit of CNEWA, he seeks to accompany others in their struggles, sorrows and hopes.
When the Register asked what spiritual lessons he took from his trip, he offered an answer that beautifully encapsulates so much of CNEWA’s own mission:
We learn, first of all, that our faith is indeed as Jesus said: our “pearl of great price.” We tend to take it for granted, but these are people who literally have lost everything, rather than give up their faith. So, first of all, we learned the primacy of faith. We learned that we need to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to live our faith in such a way as we are ready to die for it? Because these people are. They will give up anything but their faith. As one lady said, “They can’t take our faith away from us.”
No. 2, we learn the importance of solidarity. This is the lesson of St. Paul in Corinthians come alive: When one member of the body suffers, all suffer. So we are suffering with them, and we cannot be callous to their suffering. So that solidarity is a second lesson.
Thirdly, we learn the importance of hospitality and charity, in that, even though it’s a long-range hospitality, we’re all at home in the Church. I said to them, “You know I don’t understand your language, we look different from you, we have come from a nation far, far away — and yet, I feel at home with you, because we are members of the household of the faith, and we are one.”