Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - A group of 13 young men and women from France began a visit in northern Iraq to bring the solidarity of the Universal Church and contribute in a concrete fashion to projects based on interfaith dialogue and Islamic-Christian exchange. Their journey has taken them to local Christian communities among whom they will discover initiatives by lay people and clergy to rebuild a country marked by war and still affected by confessional violence. The visitors arrived last Saturday. Seven are staying in Kirkuk whilst the other six are in Karakosh (Nineveh Plain), in Iraqi Kurdistan.
For the French visitors, solidarity with Iraqi Christians required their presence because physical proximity goes beyond words of solidarity.
In Kirkuk, they were given hospitality by Archbishop Louis Sako. Their presence (pictured during Mass), locals said, "brings great help to the city's young Christians" with whom they spent entire days "praying, learning and sharing as well as moments of play and leisure." Overall, some 90 people, French and Iraqis, spent time together.
Since they arrived, the French visitors met Kirkuk Governor Najim al-din Umar Karim who said that he admired their "courage." He thanked them for their initiative, stressing the importance of the "Church" in promoting dialogue and coexistence.
In Kirkuk, the French youth took part in the inauguration of a private primary school dedicated to the Virgin Maria Myriam Ana, which will start classes in September. It is open to both Christian and Muslim pupils who will receive the same education and attend the same classes. This will create "good feelings" and improve "coexistence" whilst boosting work opportunities in the area.
In Karakosh, the other group of French visitors took part in the opening of a kindergarten, which received help from Chaldean Catholic bishop Petros Moshi.
Later, the two groups came together to visit some villages on northern Iraq and meet local families.
Stressing the great value of the initiative that brought European youth to Iraq to learn about its reality and Christian minority, the archbishop of Kirkuk expressed his "deepest gratitude".
Such "projects lead to hope," Mgr Sako said. They make "all of us, "French and Iraqi, stronger" because they provide an opportunity to "deepen the faith" and "bear witness to the Good News".
Christ, he said, "is the salvation of all of us" and any time "is an opportunity of redemption".