06/21/2017, 20.02
IRAQ – VATICAN
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For Bishop Ortega, Christian suffering in Iraq is a gift for us. Now it is time to rebuild

Christians did not give up their faith, or even pretended to, but left everything behind. Now their life is precarious but there is no grudge in their hearts, as they pray for their persecutors and thankful for what happened because "it was an opportunity to rediscover what is most important, which is faith". On the Nineveh Plain, military victory is not enough. Christians have to return because they are "the presence of Christ."

Rome (AsiaNews) – "The testimony of faith in these beautiful Christians is a treasure for us," said Mgr Alberto Ortega Martín, apostolic nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, speaking about Iraqi Christians. A "yes to God cost them everything" and the Church is called to support them.

The prelate spoke on the occasion of the Holy Rosary for persecuted Christians, led by the Nazarat Committee last night in Rome’s Santa Maria delle Fornaci Church.

Since the year 2000, Christians in Iraq have dropped from one and a half million to 300,000. This is a "grave loss not only for the Church but for [Iraqi] society because Christians can and play a fundamental role in the life of the country."

In 2014, with the arrival of the Islamic State group, they were forced to choose between converting, paying a tax, or leaving to escape death. "They left everything so as not to renege their faith. I do not know of anyone who has given up the faith, not even pretending of doing so," Mgr Ortega said.

"From one day to the next they took a few things and left." But even the few things they kept was seized by Islamic State militants as they left the city.

Now many of these Christians live in Kurdistan, mostly in rented homes with the help of the universal Church and in a "dignified" refugee camp that hosts 4,000 people.

Homes are for single families, but they are shared by two or three depending on how many children they have. They live in “a small room with mattresses on one side, which are placed on the ground at night to sleep, wardrobe in plastic closet with very little, a small television, and always the image of Jesus, the Madonna, or an altar."

Despite the difficulties, they do not complain because they may "have lost everything, but not their faith."

"It is touching how these people have no grudges in their hearts," Mgr Ortega said. "They are able to forgive those who drove them out, who hurt them. They even pray for those who persecuted them so that they may convert and the Lord rule their heart."

Their faith, according to the prelate, has been reborn amid hardships. Some of those who were not very practicing are even grateful for what happened because "it was an opportunity to rediscover what is most important, which is faith. The Lord allows these things for a greater good. Their testimony of faith for us in the West was a gift."

Mosul’s future is in the prelate’s mind. The battle for the liberation of the city is still underway. "A military victory is not enough. What is needed is action at the political, economic, and above all the educational level. We must introduce a new mindset of dialogue and collaboration."

Some Christians are going back to their villages, but they are often disappointed because they find their homes destroyed and burnt "for no reason" but "to hurt".

"We must rebuild, so we need the help of the whole Church, the United Nations, and the international community. In some villages, like Teleskuf, where the Islamic State was present for a short period of time, homes have not been so badly damaged and at least 500 families have already returned." In Karamlash, some groups will return by the end of the month.

The return needs to be sustained not only through prayer and concrete campaigns like ‘Adopt a Christian in Mosul’ by AsiaNews, but especially through support for "our yes to the Lord" because "by saying yes to the Lord they lost everything."

For the prelate, it is worth noting that when asked "what do you expect from Western Christians," They say "that they live the faith".

Christians have to return because their mission is to be "the presence of Christ, which is a good thing for all."

Young Iraqis have "a more united mindset. They grew up with more values: faith, family,” Mgr Ortega told AsiaNews. “Young people live the faith, and seek to be together in parishes. When we can, we organise activities for them."

Speaking about Miriam, the little girl who in a video two years ago said she wanted to forgive everyone, he said, "I saw her during a catechetical meeting for communion on Friday. There were 400 children. ‘Look at that!’ I thought. There must be more children like her. That gave me hope.”

“I discovered her in the video, but how many more like her are there? We must take care of them so that they may nurture the treasure they have."

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