Living side by side has been replaced by a desire to be “a community”, said Fr Samir Youssef, a priest in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is the result of the “merciful” welcoming of Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugees. Recently, 62 people from the diocese of Amadiya took part in a spiritual retreat to discuss pastoral outreach, mercy and catechesis. Iraq need more nuns and priests.
Erbil (AsiaNews) – Fr Samir Youssef, pastor in the diocese of Amadiya (Kurdistan), has been taking care of 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families since 2014. Over this time, the Islamic State (IS) group, Iraq’s decade-long violence, political divisions and partisan interests have created a new sense of brotherhood among them.
In the past, people lived side by side, but today, refugees have a new desire of community, which is “expressed in what they do but also what they say”, not only among children and youths, but also among adults “who have overcome their initial distrust.”
Words but also deeds are important for the clergyman. "When Muslim and Yazidi children call me ‘Abouna’, father in Arabic, and come to visit me in church, this is God’s victory. When we talk about the Gospel or recite the Rosary, children and young people look at with attention and respect.” For the clergyman, this bears true witness to possible future coexistence.
This is the result of patient and “merciful” work welcoming and helping “over the past three years here in Kurdistan,” not only for Christians, but “also anyone in need”.
Fr Samir Youssef, a 42-year-old graduate from Rome’s Gregorian University, is a Chaldean priest from Mosul. Ordained in 1999, he became pastor in the diocese of Amadiya-Dohuc, which serves five villages, in 2009.
The work with refugees "began slowly. We showed each family our love and desire to help them." Eventually, a "spirituality of brotherhood" emerged that we saw during the Feast of Mercy, the Sunday after Easter.
“Scores of Muslims and Yazidis, men women and children, joined Catholics to welcome Card Dolan of New York for the Mass of Mercy,” he explained. “Of course, IS wants to do evil in Iraq, but as St Joseph said, God turns evil into good."
Through the refugees, "it is possible to see the way forward to rebuild Iraq, a united country of Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and other minorities", where people "are united against IS terrorism and other Jihadi groups," where "religion is free, personal, and separate from the state.”
“This is possible not only in Kurdistan but across Iraq. Already at present, in Baghdad, thousands of people take to the streets every day to demand coexistence and peace, accusing not only IS but also political leaders of sowing divisions out of self-interest.”
Fr Samir just completed a brief spiritual retreat with 62 people from the diocese of Amadiya in a mountain location, meditating on the Gospel and issues like pastoral outreach, catechesis, and reflections related to the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
About 27 participants were young people, including seven refugees, who will travel to Poland for the upcoming World Youth Day
"We spoke about mercy, the Beatitudes, coexistence, including those who are not close to our message,” he explained. “We also talked about how to bring the Gospel into everyday life, the catechism, and a future meeting for kids from across Kurdistan.
Young people focused on IS, violence, refugees, evil and suffering, the economic and social crisis, joblessness and prospects.
“Our answer is prayer, trust in providence, and bearing witness to the Christian message. Even though we experience violence, we respond by doing good. True forgiveness means responding with love.”
Ahead of the Chaldean Church meeting, Fr Samir said that he hopes that it can be a venue for “meditation and conversion,” a time for “prayer and open hearts.” He also plans to talk about “the shortage of priests for so many faithful.”
Chaldean priests abroad, among diaspora communities, are not needed because “there is need here, in this land. Families need the presence of their own pastors to bear witness. They also need sisters, who have communities in the cities, but no permanent presence in the villages. Their presence is fundamental too.” (DS)