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Amid hardships, Syriac Catholic young people attest to their faith

“The Christians of Lebanon feel that they belong in their homeland,” Shahad said. “I wish that Christians in Iraq could live like this,” she said.

In Lebanon, Christians account for approximately 40 percent of the population. The country’s president is a Maronite Catholic, and half of the country’s 128 parliamentary seats are reserved for Christians.

Natives of Basra, Iraq, Shahad and her family moved to Mosul, where they faced increasing threats from terrorist groups. Next move was 2008 to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan in the northern part of the country. Six years later, some 100,000 Iraqi Christians also fled to Erbil, when they were uprooted from Mosul and the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State. The convention hosted 40 young adults from Erbil.

“In Iraq, Christians feel like strangers in our own country. The Muslims make us feel like we don’t belong,” Shahad explained.

“Here, we have something in common,” she said of the gathering. “And I can see that Christians will always be united by our faith. This gives me hope for our future.”

On 22 July, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph and Syriac bishops from around the world concelebrated Mass for the youth.

Before Mass, the convention participants had an open forum with the patriarch. The first question: Will another such gathering be planned?

“Of course, we wish to,” the patriarch responded, to thunderous applause, noting, “You are all smiling.”

“Now you have to be the missionaries in your parish,” he told them. “Seek God, follow him, wherever you are in the world.”

Syriac Catholic Bishop Barnaba Habash of Our Lady of Deliverance in Newark, New Jersey, told Catholic News Service: “I give thanks to the Lord for what I am seeing here, how these youths are really happy because of their faith, no matter what their difficulties.” The enthusiasm of the convention participants, he said, is a testimony that “our priests really understand what it is to be a missionary in the diaspora.”

Bishop Habash said he believed the October Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment with Pope Francis would herald “another page in the new days of the church.” the patriarch assured the gathered youth that their struggles and concerns would be conveyed to the synod.

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