Two years after being forced out of their homes, Christians taking refuge in the Erbil in northern Iraqi have a new church.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako inaugurated the church, dedicated to Mary Mother of Perpetual Help, in the suburb of Ankawa, on Monday, June 27.
Since the Islamic State offensive two years ago that took Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and villages on the nearby Nineveh Plain, tens of thousands of internally displaced persons have been living in trailers in Erbil and surroundings.
The new church was funded with the offerings of the faithful, according to Independent Catholic News. Besides providing a spiritual home for the refugees it will also be a center for their pastoral care, the report said.
The liturgy was attended by Archbishop Alberto Orega Martin, Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, and Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who belongs to the Congregation of Redemptorist Fathers, who have a special devotion to the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
During his homily, Patriarch Louis described the birth of the new church as a sign of the bond that binds Iraqi Christians to the land of their fathers. He said emigration to distant countries was not the best solution for those cherish the gift of Christian life in their own land.
The Islamic State has suffered a string of losses recently and, after Iraqi forces retook the city of Fallujah, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the way is now clear for an offensive against Mosul. Some, though, question whether Iraq, even assisted by the US and coalition forces, can retake the country’s second largest city and Christians can return home.
American and allied officials say the Iraqi Army is exhausted and ill-equipped and that an offensive on Mosul will most likely be delayed for months, The New York Times reported in early June.
One consideration, pointed out by Nina Shea, a veteran religious freedom advocate, is to prevent the kind of humanitarian catastrophe that accompanied the liberation of Fallujah:
Iraqi and international authorities must not treat refugee-aid planning as an afterthought in Mosul, as they evidently did in Fallujah. A humanitarian failure in Iraq’s second-largest city could mean a massive loss of life among its Sunni civilians and have far-reaching consequences for the Christians and Yazidis, refugees from genocide, who used to live in Mosul’s surrounding towns and hope to return there once the provincial capital is liberated.
After the Fallujah offensive began in earnest this month aid agencies sounded an alarm: Tens of thousands of people fleeing the city lacked basic necessities and were sleeping out in the open desert. They had no respite from 117-degree temperatures and fierce sand storms. The team of the International Committee of the Red Cross tweeted that it was some of the “harshest weather” they had ever encountered. The New York Times correspondent on the scene described the refugees’ conditions as “apocalyptic.”
In mid-June, Patriarch Sako invited Christians in Iraq to join in the fasting and prayer being practiced by Muslims for the month of Ramadan. In addition, he offered through Caritas Iraq a contribution of $50,000 to support he refugees of Fallujah,” reported Fides news agency.