printer friendly versionPrint
Priest Shocked at Condition for Iraqis Displaced in Erbil

22 Aug 2014 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — As secretary to Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, Father Rami Wakim has met scores of Syrian refugees, but said he was shocked at the flood of displaced Iraqis he encountered in Erbil, Iraq.

The Melkite priest accompanied the 20 August delegation of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, on a mission to show their support for the persecuted Christians and other minorities who sought refuge there after being expelled from their homes by the Islamic State fighters.

The delegation visited the displaced at three different churches, and Father Wakim described mattresses scattered around church altars. Various rooms in the churches were filled to capacity — up to 50 people sleeping in areas the size of a single bedroom — with the overflow spreading onto church grounds, parking lots and streets, now dotted with makeshift tents in the 105-degree heat.

“The people are angry because the government just gave up on them. They told us that, in Mosul, where there had normally been a presence of 60,000 soldiers, after the onslaught of ISIS, in only a matter of hours, these soldiers abandoned them, laying down their weapons,” Father Wakim said.

Mosul is now completely empty of Christians as is Qaraqosh, a town dating back to 1,000 years before Christ and inhabited by mostly Christians for 2,000 years. More than 100,000 people are displaced from Mosul alone.

“They all fled at the same time without taking anything” with them, Father Wakim told Catholic News Service.

Expelled from their ancestral lands by the militants of the Islamic State, the displaced Iraqis have put their trust in church leaders and are leaning heavily on their own faith.

This was evident, Father Wakim said, in the way swarms of people crowded around the patriarchs, kissing the crosses and medals adorning their vestments, asking the prelates for blessings and to pray over the sick.

“It was very touching. The [Melkite] patriarch cried many times when he saw these people. He was hugging and kissing them as he cried. Of course, I cried, too. I think all the patriarchs cried because they felt helpless, there was nothing they could do at that very moment,” even though they came laden with funds from church collections and donors, Father Wakim said.

One of the major objectives of the visit was for the patriarchs, as a unified voice, to plead together for help, not just because most of those affected are Christians but because they are human beings and they are being eradicated.

Patriarch Gregory had just ordained Father Wakim a few days earlier, 16 August, in Damascus, Syria.

Seeing the situation in Erbil “made me realize that the mission of a priest is very difficult, and very heavy at this time,” particularly in the Middle East, Father Wakim said.

“People look up to priests and bishops as the only solution, the only help they can get at a time where — of course we need to pray with them — but at this time prayer alone doesn’t seem enough and actions are required.”

1 | 2 |

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Patriarchs Melkite Greek Catholic Church