02/15/2016, 12.35
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Archbishop of Erbil: My Lent of Mercy among Mosul's refugees

Msgr. Warda speaks of his work among Christian families who have fled from the Islamic State. The prelate appeals for "ways to help our displaced brothers and sisters". A "special" pastoral program for young people. The goal is to ensure "a dignified life" in Iraq, where "they have a mission to accomplish."

Erbil (AsiaNews) - This Lent is a period of "mercy" and "charitable works in support of Christian families" displaced for over 18 months from Mosul and the Nineveh plain, following the advance of the Islamic State (IS), for the Christians living in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is what the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) Msgr. Bashar Warda, tells AsiaNews, recalling that the Lenten season "begins on 31 January, according to the calendar Chaldean".

For the occasion, "our seven parishes - continues the prelate - opened their doors from morning to night to accommodate the faithful in prayer and Masses. In every church there was also a priest for confession. And throughout the period of Lent a Mass is celebrated in the morning at 11, and a Mass that begins at 4:30 pm ", followed by prayer.
"The main theme of this period" of Lent, says Msgr. Warda, "is mercy," which was also the focus of "my pastoral letter". "I asked for peoples prayers - he adds - and to find ways to help our Christian displaced brothers and sisters who live [for sometime] among us."

On the night between 6 and 7 August 2014, hundreds of thousands of people left the predominantly Christian villages of the plain of Nineveh, from Qaraqosh to Karameles, finding refuge in Erbil and other areas of Kurdistan. Msgr. Warda was at the forefront in providing support and help. AsiaNews launched the campaign "Adopt a Christian from Mosul," which continues to respond to the long-term needs of displaced Christian families.

"Our young people - says Msgr. Warda - have prepared a special pastoral program, to live the Gospel in solidarity with the displaced. Today, 18 months later, there are still 2 thousand families in tents, camping in shelters around Ankawa, "the Christian neighborhood of Erbil. Their daily lives, he adds, is "increasingly difficult, while the demand for water, electricity, basic necessities is growing ...".

In this difficult context, the Catholic University of Erbil, in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus in the United States, has initiated "spiritual formation programs for the displaced", attended by 230 people who have lessons "every Friday for four hours”.

At the same time, thanks to the help of the Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas in Detroit and the Pontifical Mission Societies "we opened a new school for the displaced, and this year alone, 350 girls were able to start the academic year."

My aim and that of the whole diocese, the prelate explains, is "to ensure a dignified life" for displaced persons by providing them with "shelter, food, education and health care." Not only in the immediate and daily needs, but also by looking for a way to "develop their skills and abilities, to fully live our Christian mission." Our desire, he adds, "is to build the future of Iraq and of the region" through schools, hospitals, universities. This will also help the families "to remain in Erbil, close to their villages in Mosul and Nineveh", although so far "at least 5 thousand families have left Iraq" at the risk of their lives.

The presence of the Islamic State "threatens" stability of the area, concludes Msgr. Warda, nonetheless "we continue our work with the same goal and commitment: to help the Iraqi Christians to live a dignified life remaining in Iraq, where they have a mission to accomplish."

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