For the archbishop of Kirkuk, young Christians and Muslims are the engine to rebuild Iraq

The new generation is the true foundation on which to rebuild after years of divisions, violence and extremism, says Mgr Yousif Thoma Mirkis who met 700 university students from Mosul, lodged in Kirkuk during the Islamic State rule. Two young men from Mosul, one Christian and one Muslim, shot a video telling the story of a friendship that is stronger than the jihadi madness.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – Rebuilding Iraq, after years of wars, extremism, divisions and violence culminating in the rise of the Islamic State, which is down but not yet out, must be based "on the young, who are the basis on which to build the future," said Mgr Yousif Thoma Mirkis, archbishop of Kirkuk, northern Iraq.

The prelate recently met with a group of students from the University of Mosul who were lodged in his diocese when the Islamic State controlled the city.

In a context of "social strife and devastations that have struck streets, houses, places of worship and cultural centres", the University of Mosul "has resumed activities trying to secure a future for its students,” the archbishop said.

For him, the new generation is the starting point to revive Iraq’s social, economic and cultural fabric, torn by conflicts and divisions over identity and sectarianism.

Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that young people play a leading role in building a "healthier and more supportive" society.

The pontiff is set to meet with a group of over 300 young people from all over the world, who will be in the Vatican from 19 to 24 March to discuss the issues that will be on the agenda of next year’s Synod of Bishops, dedicated precisely to new generations.

At this meeting, participants will present their experiences and their requests to Pope Francis, for both Catholics but also young people from other religions or no religion.

For Mgr Yousif Thoma Mirkis, the experience of meeting, dialogue and sharing is what "pushed me to host about 700 university students, Christians and Muslims, from the University of Mosul" (pictured) during the period of Islamic State occupation.

"It was great to see them again,” the prelate said. “In my recent visit I went to the university. I have never shaken so many hands, taken pictures, smiled next to them. Muslim students were the first who wanted to greet me, happy to immortalise the meeting in an image."

About 3,000 young Christians study at the University of Mosul, and every day they travel from the villages and towns in the Nineveh plain to the big city in northern Iraq.

The student dormitory is still damaged and there are no rooms or places in the city to accommodate them because of the devastation by the Islamic State, which “left traces that are still visible today”.

"As rebuilding continues, the Church pays their transportation costs. People want to turn the page, be alive again, resume their interrupted journey.”

For the prelate, young people are the engine of this renaissance, "putting aside religious ideologies or policies of the past that have failed, leaving behind only death and destruction".

"We cannot start up with the same pro-Islamic politicians and radical religious leaders,” he said. “We have had enough of divisions between Sunnis and Shiites; we must not turn back the clock.

“We must look at unity, based on the principle of citizenship in one nation free from corruption, and free from external interference from regional and international powers."

To counter the jihadi brainwashing of the past few years and the ideologies of death and destruction, the archbishop of Kirkuk suggests initiatives that encourage exchange and dialogue.

One is a short film entitled Back to Mosul, which tells the story of the bond between Alaa’ and Ali, a Christian and a Muslim, that is stronger than jihadi madness.

The videoclip "is the work of the two young people who wanted to show that it is possible to go back to living together, overcoming the divisions". (DS)