A collaboration among the local church, a veteran and Iraqi Christians...and the Blessed Mother
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Pope Francis in September asked Catholics in Europe to put up immigrant families fleeing the horrors of war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.
In the village of Lourdes, France, it was already happening.
About 15 Iraqi Christian families have arrived in the pilgrimage town over the past year. Up to 20 families, roughly 70 to 80 people, are expected to have reached the town by early 2016, Reuters reported:
Under a local Catholic initiative called Echo 65 run by retired soldier Pascal Vigneron, the refugees stay with Amer and Nahren at first before being sent to other homes in the parish.
The news service identifies “Amer and Nahren” simply as a Christian couple that fled Iraq about 10 years ago and has been living in France since then. The article did not use the family names of any of the refugees quoted in the article.
The couple has helped other Iraqi Christians with the “active involvement” of their parish priest, Father Jean-Francois Duhar.
Father Duhar and Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes contacted the French consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, after France agreed last year to grant asylum to persecuted Iraqi Christians. Visas were issued for those with host families to go to.
Many of the new families are struggling to overcome the memory of their experience with the Islamic State group, however, and the challenge of learning French. Staying with Amer and Nahren, can help with the transition to a new life, Vigneron.
As does being in Lourdes.
“We are split between sadness and joy. But Lourdes is like a flower offering us her perfume. It is the town of the Virgin Mary, giving us our faith,” said one of the refugees, Youssif, 48, a former teacher of the Aramaic and Syriac languages.