07/19/2008, 00.00
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The WYD of the Iraqi young people, sign of peace and hope for the country

In the dioceses of Erbil and Amadiyah a thousand young people, together with pilgrims from France, Lebanon, and Australia, celebrated WYD at the shrine of the Iraqi martyr Soultana Mahdokhte. A Lebanese singer intoned selections from the Syrian and Maronite Christian tradition.

Erbil (AsiaNews) - With a Eucharistic procession and the solemn celebration of Mass, WYD concluded in the dioceses of Erbil and Amadiyah, at which thousands of Iraqi young people participated together with a group of Catholics from Lebanon, Australia, and France. At the end of the events, the pilgrims launched a message of hope: that the next edition of World Youth Day may be celebrated "in the entire country", not only in the north as on this occasion, without fear of "clashes and violence". This would be the real signal of a "return to life, to peace, to everyday normality" for a country marked for too long by violence.

"The evening of July 18", recounts Rabban al Qas, bishop of Erbil and Amadiyah, "more than 1,000 young people carried a cross in pilgrimage to the village of Araden, near the monastery of Soultana Mahdokhte". From the shrine dedicated to the fourth century Iraqi martyr, "one could admire the entire valley of Sapna", the prelate continues, "while the young people sang the songs of the WYD in Sydney. Effort and weariness did not undermine their spirit, and on their faces could be seen joy, the emotion of a long day's voyage".

The Christian community shared World Youth Day with a French delegation from Pax Christi, an Australian of Iraqi origin who returned to his homeland to support the initiative, and two young emigrants from Shaqlawa - a city in Arbil Governorate in northern Iraq - who had come to visit their family after years of absence.

Bishop Rabban emphasises the climate of "sharing and fraternity" among the young people, especially for the French delegates of Pax Christi, who were able to witness with their own eyes "the vitality of the Christian community, to share the three days of prayer and celebration, to listen to the real voices of the place, the sufferings and hopes of our young people, but above all the strength of their faith. They represent the future of the Church in Iraq, and moments of encounter like this can help them to become aware of their identity, of the richness of faith in Christ, of a people that walks together with the universal Church". A people too often "forgotten by the international community and by the West".

In addition to moments of prayer and catechesis, the young people attended a series of concerts performed by a Lebanese group accompanied by the singer Abir Nehme: she sang selections from the Syrian and Maronite Christian tradition, making an even more special experience for the pilgrims who listened with enthusiasm and passion. "I had an extraordinary experience", emphasises the Lebanese singer, "that I will carry with me forever: being among these young people at an historic moment in which they are forced to bear difficulties and persecution on account of their faith is, first of all, a concrete experience of mission. I saw people animated by good will, by the desire for peace, by a hope that, although repeatedly disappointed, never ceases to grow, and constitutes an example to be followed". With her music, Abir hopes "to have left a sign of optimism for the future", and concludes by saying that part of her "will always remain in Iraq, among these young people".

This morning, the bishop and the young people celebrated Holy Mass, at the end of which the entire Christian community expressed the desire that "the next time, the celebration can involve the Christians of the entire country", not only the community in the north. Tomorrow in Kirkuk, the conclusion of WYD will be celebrated in Iraq, with hearts and minds turned toward Pope Benedict XVI and the young people gathered in Sydney.

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