Fr Samir: the 'angels of the pandemic' for Christians and Muslims suffering from Covid
The testimony of a parish priest from Iraqi Kurdistan where infections are on the rise. The virus carries "a stigma" that people prefer to hide. The "Christian charity" which manifests itself in need through initiatives of solidarity. Prayer is a weapon against the isolation and fear caused by the disease.
Erbil (AsiaNews) - Contracting the virus "is a bit like a social stigma: before they tried to hide cancer" while now, if one is ill, they prefer to say that "it is a tumour to conceal Covid-19". This is the testimony, entrusted to AsiaNews, by Fr. Samir Youssef, parish priest of Enishke, in the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan), which has recently experienced an escalation of infections. The priest experienced the illness firsthand, as did his mother who entrusted herself to prayer in moments of difficulty. "Christian charity", he continues, is fundamental in the need that has manifested itself thanks to the voluntary commitment of dozens of young people who have come to the aid of Christian and Muslim families forced into isolation because they are infected.
Here is his testimony:
In our Christian villages in Iraqi Kurdistan we have had many cases in the last period, there are entire families affected by the new coronavirus and I myself have experienced difficult times. My 87-year-old mother Asia Sadoq contracted Covid-19 but thanks to the care of my doctor brother and prayer she managed to overcome the disease. For the first 10 days she experienced great fatigue throughout her body, she didn't want to eat. Every three days she took her blood tests and checked her saturation. We did not tell her that she had coronavirus, so as not to scare her, because the psychological aspect - together with prayers - are also important for the healing process. Every day she prayed for the sick, not knowing herself that she was sick.
Here, contracting the virus carries some social stigma: before we tried to hide having cancer, now if one is sick they say that perhaps it is a tumour to conceal Covid-19. Many become infected and wait, do not act, do not want to know they have it for fear of losing their job even though they know they can infect others. And then there is also the problem of tests: in public hospitals it takes a long time to do them, accessing rapid tests or swabs from private individuals cost up to two or three hundred dollars, too much for the income of these poor families. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading.
In recent weeks we have needed to source and supply food to sick or quarantined people, to accompany people to the hospital, to make themselves available to help others. Christian charity has responded through the "angels of the pandemic", as I have renamed them. These are groups of young men and women from the various parishes, aged 18 to 40, university students or workers, scattered around the various villages, of which about forty are in our pastoral center in Enishke alone. They have helped me a lot in recent weeks, with an active voluntary service in favour of Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families in need. They are joined by my Muslim Kurdish friends, who helped me to bring the most serious patients to Dohuk, because here in the area we do not have specialized hospitals to combat the most serious drifts of the virus.
Our young people, some wealthy families who have allocated money, sent money and aid, have allowed us to take care of people who had no one to help them, from medical consultations to the purchase of drugs to the delivery of food. I myself, albeit in a light form, did Covid-19 and these guys made up for the restrictions I had to impose on myself to avoid spreading the virus. They intervened, visiting families and receiving everyone's needs. An active participation, which joins the prayer because every week we find ourselves in the garden of the parish center for the recitation of the Rosary.
An example of the work of these "angels" is the support given to a village of 18 families, all with one or more coronavirus positive family member. Every day we brought bread, water, food supplies every three days so that they did not have to go out for their needs. On the school front, not all of them have closed, or have done so only for short periods, because distance learning is difficult, if not impossible and does not work very well. Families with school-age children were given money to transport their children to school.
After all, since 2011, with the arrival of the first Syrian refugees, the vocation in these parts is to action, to evangelization through works, trying to be present in society and to respond to needs. For the victims of the war and of those affected by the virus directly or indirectly: today the difficulties have grown, many people driving buses or taxis, restaurant employees, construction workers have lost their jobs because everything is blocked due to lockdowns, restrictions and closures. There are large families, with children and the elderly, and money is never enough.
Then there is the most painful issue, which is that of the victims of Covid-19, because for some time now, we have had a funeral every day for a person who died from the virus. I am the only priest left, because one got sick and the other went to America, and the situation is becoming more and more difficult and painful.
The hope is that aid will continue to arrive from all over the world, despite the emergency there are still parishes and priests who help us from Italy, just as the campaign launched by AsiaNews "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" was fundamental and continues to bear fruit. Even if the sums are not large, we still manage to distribute baskets of food every month to 175 Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families, whether they are refugees or people in need due to this terrible pandemic.
* Parish priest of Enishke, diocese of Amadiya