07/25/2008, 00.00
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102 children receive first communion in Erbil

The ceremony, presided over by Bishop Rabban al Qas, saw the participation of the entire local Christian community. A moment of "celebration" and of "hope" in witness to the vitality of the Iraqi Church, despite its suffering. A special "blessing from the pope" requested.

Erbil (AsiaNews) - This morning, at the parish of Saint Joseph in Ankawa, in the north of Iraq, 102 children received the sacrament of first communion. The event was hailed with "joy and hope" by the entire Christian community, which "is alive and continues its journey", in spite of its daily difficulties. In the upcoming weeks, the dioceses of Erbil and Amadiyah will celebrate other first communions, particularly on Sunday, July 27, in the Parish of Saint Elijah in Ankawa, on August 1 in Shaklawa, the following day in the village of Armota, and August 8 in Koy.

"These celebrations increase the hope in the hearts of the faithful", Rabban al Qas, bishop of Erbil and Amadiyah, emphasizes to AsiaNews. This morning, he imparted the sacrament to the children (in the photo) of the parish of Saint Joseph. "It was a moment of joy for everyone: for the children, their parents, their relatives, their friends; the entire Christian community wanted to be present at the ceremony and to demonstrate its closeness". A celebration that demonstrates the adherence of the "Christians to the Church and to their pastor", and for this reason, they asked for "a special blessing from the pope".

The ceremony began this morning at 6:45, and concluded at 9:30 (local time), followed by a celebration in the square in front of the church. "The sacrament of first communion", affirms Bishop Rabban, "has a special meaning for our situation", which is often marked by conflict and violence. Through the Eucharist, they renew their "belonging to the Christian community", and this is "a sign of hope" in addition to being a strong witness to the "courage with which we live our faith", despite threats and persecution.

The bishop renewed his appeal to the faithful from all over the world to "not abandon Iraq", which needs the "presence of Christians". Yesterday, during a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Iraqi prime minister Al Maliki talked about the situation of the refugees, many of whom are Christians forced to flee because of the violence that they must suffer. "It is necessary to guarantee the faithful the possibility of returning to their country", concludes the bishop, "because only in their land of origin can they contribute to development, to peaceful coexistence" with their Muslim brothers, and to the construction of a civil society. "In many cases, the refugees have sold everything they own in order to flee and find safety abroad, but now it is here that we must rebuild society starting from its foundations, and this is why we need the support of the West".

In the upcoming weeks, in the diocese of Erbil, a meeting of catechesis will be held by a group of theologians from Jordan, at which 35 people from Baghdad will participate. In the village of Karamles - the burial place of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who died last March 13 after 14 days in captivity - Chaldean patriarch Cardinal Delly will preside over the ordination of a local priest. Signs of hope are coming from Iraq for the Iraqi Christian community which, strengthened by the support of Benedict XVI, wants to demonstrate its own "presence, with courage and trust in the future".

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