Fr Shamil in Baghdad: my vocation, following Msgr. Rahho and the Iraqi martyrs
AsiaNews met the priest ordained by Card Sako on January 18 last. From friendship with a nun, to entering the seminary with his family's blessing. Brotherhood, acceptance and fighting hatred the foundations of his mission in Iraq. The local Church has witnessed the faith through the sacrifice of its children, religious and lay people.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - A vocation born thanks to the friendship with a nun and a priest, cultivated in the seminary and lived every day following the example of the Iraqi martyrs, whose testimony is a source of pride for the whole Church. THis is how Fr. Madyan Shamil speaks of his choice to embrace the priesthood, learning to love one's neighbor "as yourself" according to the example of the Gospel. From the patriarchal diocese of Baghdad, he was ordained on January 18 by Card. Louis Raphael Sako in a ceremony lived with joy by the entire community of the capital.
Born on 29 January 1995 in Mosul, he entered the seminary in 2012 and completed his studies in 2018, after which he spent a period of study in Italy, especially in Assisi, where "I learned to exercise spirituality" . He is currently assistant to the parish priest of the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph, in Baghdad.
Here the new priest's interview with AsiaNews:
Fr. Madyan, speak to us about the birth of your vocation?
I felt the desire to serve the Lord from an early age. After the American occupation of Iraq [in 2003], my parents decided to go to church every Sunday. During the first mass we met a nun, who asked my father to be able to teach me and my sister. Thanks to her, we learned catechism, the Chaldean language and also prayer in preparation for first communion. We became her 'children' and with her I began to feel the vocation of God, deepened in my friendship with Fr. Hanna Jajika with whom I served mass or visited families. At that moment I fell in love with the Church and the ministry of the priesthood, which was followed by a passion for reading, books and magazines, especially those on the priesthood and the life of the saints. In 2012, after finishing high school, I asked my parents to enter the seminary and share a month's experience with them. After this short period, after talking to the bishop I decided to make my official entry to the seminary in Erbil, with the consent of my family. In marriage, in consecrated life, in work, each one according to his or her own vocation must be messengers of God and be at the service of others.
Pope Francis stressed that mission is proposal, testimony and sharing: how is this taks of proclamation in teh context of the current reality in Iraq?
In the Gospel, Christ urges us to love "your neighbor as yourself", without interest. This love means sacrifice and self-giving, just as the martyr is a witness of his faith. This testimony becomes effective in sacrifice; we Christians of Iraq live this experience and we are proud of those who have given this example of testimony to the blood. The principles of the mission in Iraq are brotherhood, non-violence and contrasting hatred, acceptance of the other without discrimination, sharing joys and sorrows. In this regard, our country distinguishes itself by multiplicity of cultures, ideologies, languages.
What role does the Church have in Iraq today?
Ours is a role that is not limited only to words, but can also be translated into extraordinary actions and gestures. Recently, in the face of street demonstrations against the government - in which hundreds of Iraqis died - the Chaldean patriarch and his assistant bishops, with some priests, visited the square that became the symbol of the revolution. They encouraged those present because to break the sectarian barrier and revive the national identity. [Card Sako] invited the government to listen to their legitimate cry, as Christmas approached he canceled the celebrations as a gesture of solidarity with the victims, celebrating mass and praying for peace, visiting the wounded. The Church is in thr front line in the encounter between faiths, in the search for brotherhood and reconciliation.
Yours is one of the many families who fled Mosul and the Nineveh plain in summer 2014 with the arrival of ISIS. What do you remember of those days?
Before the arrival of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis), my family lived in Karamles. When the jihadists arrived I was not with them, because I was already in Erbil. I remember a great tragedy ... early in the morning thousands of Christians, children and elderly people, families, who came to all the churches of Erbil in a state of shock, with no money, no clothes, no shelter. With the help of the Church, donors and NGOs, in addition to the regional government of Kurdistan, a way was found to respond to the emergency and ensure housing and care. Today a part of the people have returned following the defeat of ISIS, but many are still in Kurdistan and a part has fled out of Iraq.
Where do Mosul refugees see their future? Would your family want to come back?
For now they have settled in Ankawa (Christian neighborhood of Erbil). Kurdistan has proven to be a welcoming place, an area of peace and coexistence, security and prosperity, there are job opportunities and a good atmosphere for a dignified life. Of course, the hope is that in the future the situation in Mosul will improve and that Christians will be able to return safely, but for now this prospect still seems distant.
In the past, Mosul was the scene of the murder of Fr. Ragheed and the kidnapping, which concluded tragically, of Archbishop Rahho. What memories do you have of that period?
When Fr. Ragheed was killed I was still a child, but I still have some memories in particular of the bishop who had given me my first communion. Archbishop Rahho was a kind and courageous person who was not afraid and tried to instill courage, even after the death of Fr. Ragheed preceded by the murder six months before of another priest, Fr. Paul Iskandar, of the Syrian Orthodox church. At the time, Christians felt persecuted and this prompted them to emigrate, especially to Syria.
Even Patriarch Sako has repeatedly called the Iraqi church a Church of martyrs ...
True faith is revealed through actions and the Iraqi Church has witnessed this faith by sacrificing its children, religious and lay people. People suffered greatly from persecution and violence, kidnappings for money, several bombed churches, others threatened to convert to Islam or leave the city. Nonetheless, we felt the power of the Lord accompanying us and protecting us from evil.