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The Roots of “Risen” Start in Iraq

Paul Morigi/WireImage

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 17: Producer Pete Shilaimon arrives at the "Risen" New York screening at The Sheen Center on February 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Diane Montagna - published on 02/19/16 - updated on 06/08/17

Watch part II of our interview: The story of executive producer Pete Shilaimon

ROME — Pete Shilaimon, executive producer of the film Risen, is one of many Iraqis who had to abandon his homeland in order to live his faith without having to hide. This is his story.

Diane Montagna: Tell us more about your family. They fled Iraq when you were a boy?

Pete Shilaimon: Yes, I was five years old, and we fled for two big reasons, the first being Saddam’s rule. It was at the time when Iraq and Iran were going to go to war with each other. And the second reason was religious freedom. We are Chaldeans, and it was very hard for us to dive into our faith 100 percent without hiding it.

I think the story for me was: My mother and I were out getting food when I was really young, and at five years old — four and a half, five years old — you don’t remember stories. But what I remembered and had seen really shook me to the core. Basically, we went shopping for food or something, and we wore crucifixes. My mother had one, and hers came out of her …

Her collar …

Yeah, and then she hid it. So at a very young age, I remembered “hiding it,” which is strange for a five-year-old. But then as we were walking back home, she had stones thrown at her. And to her, it was constantly hiding her faith. And my father and mother … we were not going to live in fear and hiding our faith. So for me, I wear my cross proudly today, and you can’t do that in a lot of countries. So we’re very free to practice and be who we are.

You witnessed your mother being stoned at the age of five years old…

Yes, it’s a memory that I’ll never … it’s just a memory that I don’t think you could ever, ever take out of your head. My brothers and sister are here as well, and they’ve had many of those memories. But yeah, it was just a tough time, it was a tough time. And for us, coming to America and finding our freedom, we found our voice. So it’s pretty hard to see the refugee problem right now from Syria and Iraq. I have two uncles who have fled. One’s in Turkey, one’s in Germany. They lost everything. So it’s very hard. It’s history repeating itself, and here we are again.

Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

Christians in the Middle East
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