AsiaNews met two families who escaped from the former Caliphate stronghold, still today exiles in Iraqi Kurdistan. Their thanks to the local Church that "made us feel at home" and contributed materially and spiritually. The birth of Jesus, source of hope. An appeal to Iraqi Christians who have emigrated abroad: come back and contribute to the reconstruction of the country.
Enishke (AsiaNews) - Thanks to the local Church, which "made us feel at home"; the strength of faith, which "remains, while Isis is gone"; and again, an invitation to Iraqi Christians who have fled the country, to return to "collaborate together in the reconstruction" of the country. This is the main message given to AsiaNews by to two families of Christian refugees from Mosul, who fled in the summer of 2014 in conjunction with the rise of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis). For a long time these two families have lived, together with 150 other Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families, in the parish of Enishke (diocese of Amadiya, Iraqi Kurdistan) entrusted to the pastoral care of Fr. Samir Youssef. Even if the battle against the jihadist militias has been won, many problems and difficulties remain, above all the reconstruction of the homes, which prevents any immediate return.
The first family, originally from Mosul, is made up of the father Emad Matti Elias, 64, a former worker in a grain factory; his wife Jiandark Mahe Haqobian, 59, and two children: Meriana, born in 2001 who attends high school and her sister Fostina, born three years later. The second family, also fled from Mosul and have been living in a former school used for accommodation. The family is formed by the father Asaad Amen Jiarjes, a 47 year-old mechanic who now works occasionally; his wife Mari Noel Abdel Ahed, 44, and his daughters Lara and Jilan born in 2003 and 2006. Below, their testimony to AsiaNews entrusted to Fr. Samir:
How have you been preparing this Advent for Christmas?
Emad: Before, following the arrival of the Islamic State and our flight from Mosulì, it was difficult to celebrate Christmas. But after we arrived here in Enishke, the reception of the local Church made us feel at home. And it accompanied us in living our faith, teaching us and helping us prepare for the feast of the birth of Jesus on a material and spiritual level.
Asad: Above all on a spiritual level, participating in prayer time, in meetings, in the songs of the whole community. Together with our children we also decorated a tree, because it is always a source of great joy, especially for us who still live today in a school, which has become our home. But what counts is the company of Jesus. We often gather to read the Gospel, sing, pray the Rosary. [The children intervene, who add] The tree is a symbol of the Cross, it means life and gives us so much joy.
What does the first Christmas after the defeat of ISIS mean to you?
E: This Christmas is very different and means a lot to us. It is the confirmation that Jesus is the true life, the new life, and that every evil has its end. Isis is over because evil has no future. This is indeed the Christmas of love, stronger than death. It is the feast of life, of victory for all Christians. It means that after every night comes the day, after darkness the light. Jesus came as a light to the world and the life of Jesus always overcomes any kind of death, fear and evil. We are no longer afraid for our daughters.
A: This Christmas gives us a strong sense of hope. We continue to live next to Jesus, because not only Isis, but no kind of evil can separate us from Christ. And we continue our mission as witnesses to Christ. This is Christmas: Jesus with us. [The wife continues] We are very happy that ISIS is no longer there, we feel the love of God in our hearts. This, the love of God, remains forever, not the Islamic State as the jihadists shouted.
How much did faith in Jesus count in these years of suffering and exile?
E: Faith was the starting point to our being able to endure everything. The strength that has helped us to continue living, to start from scratch here. Our faith remains, while Isis is gone. In these times of difficulty and exile from our home, faith and prayer have been our strength. We live our faith through prayer, the food of the soul. Without this faith we would not have arrived here and we want to live it today by participating in all the activities.
A: Our faith was the first help, the basis for our survival. We lived our faith here in Enishke with the faithful of the parish; a parish that has welcomed us like its children. Today we can proudly say that we have not abandoned our faith. And through prayer, through the Church, the parish priest and our spiritual father "Abuna Samir", we have been able to experience the love of God, and that we are not alone. Whatever else we need, the local Church has always come to our aid, allowing our daughters to study ... they would like to become doctors to care for those in need.
How do you see the future of Iraq?
E: The country is made up of very different regions, and from different ethnic groups, as well as being in an unstable region. This is why there are always problems, clashes. But we hope and believe that the Lord will not abandon Iraq, and one day peace and stability will be found. Sometimes we manage to be optimistic, we trust in divine Providence and in the protection of the Church. Fear remains, but faith and hope are stronger, fear is overcome and we do not want our children to grow in fear.
A: There is a future for Christians in Iraq. Many European countries have opened their doors to refugees, but I have decided to stay with my family, not to leave Iraq. This is our land and we must not leave it to foreigners. Wherever there are difficulties and challenges, I know Christian families who have left Iraq and are not happy at all. Many helped us stay here. Today there is trust, tranquility, and this also comes from our faith, despite all the circumstances that drive us to be afraid. But we remain optimistic, strong and confident.
Do you have a special Christmas message to those who have sought refuge abroad?
E: The message we want to send them is to have faith in God. If they had a firm faith in Him, they would not have left Iraq. Of course, many have been forced in the past, but now it's time to come back. Because this is our land, our families are not happy abroad. They have to come back and, together, rebuild Iraq. And fill the churches with us, to celebrate.
A: I invite those out there to come back. This is our land, especially those who have found shelter in the countries around Iraq. We must all work together with the reconstruction, so I hope they can all come back as soon as possible. Finally, I wish to wish Christians all over the world, and in particular to my Iraqi brothers and sisters, a Christmas full of peace. (DS)