Four Christians in Qaraqosh, Iraq, share their hopes and dreams for the new year with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) as the country rebuilds back after difficult times in the past years.
By Vatican News staff writer
Christians in Iraq entered the new year with mixed feelings. For many, life on Iraq’s Nineveh plains remains precarious in spite of the progress recorded with the military defeat of ISIS from the region and the restoration and rebuilding of Christian homes and Churches.
Pope Francis, in March 2021, visited Iraq, braving the threats of terrorism and Covid-19. He brought a message of peace and human fraternity, and blessed the country that has been through so much suffering in the past decade.
During his historic four-day visit, the Holy Father also visited Qaraqosh, a town renowned as one of the most important for Iraq’s Christians, and which is trying to recover its status as many of its residents return to start their lives anew in their ancestral homeland.
Aid to the Church in Need, a Pontifical Foundation dedicated to providing pastoral and humanitarian assistance to the persecuted Church around the world, has gathered the experiences of four Christians in Qaraqosh who reflect on their hopes and dreams for the new year in light of their country’s history.
Things changing for the better
Namroud Kasha, a poet and journalist, highlights that in spite of all the difficulties, “things have changed for the better.” He recalls that the atmosphere of Christmas and the New Year’s celebrations differed significantly from the past decade because 10 years ago, celebrations were canceled due to insecurity, particularly in the Nineveh Governorate where terrorist groups were killing and displacing Christians.
Despite the challenges, Kasha says, “we returned to our towns, which were destroyed and lifeless. The attention was focused on the reconstruction of the infrastructure and other damages. During the past three years, this black dust that covered our cities has been wiped away”.
New year brings renewed hope
For retired civil servant, Amer Shamoun, “hope is renewed at the beginning at each year for a future in which we will overcome the challenges that threaten our religious and national identity as well as the identity of our land.”
“That renewed hope,” he continues, “looks to strengthen Christians politically in accordance with our rights established in the Constitution and to activate these on the ground. We also must work on legislating other rights not yet established in the Constitution so far.”
Shamoun however notes that for this to happen, the “turbulent political and security conditions” in Iraq must begin to settle and the tide of emigration must be stemmed to reduce the number of Christians leaving the country because of the uncertainty of the situation and loss of confidence in the future.
The need for security, stability
Fr. Istephanos al-Katib, Pastor of St. Joseph’s Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh further highlights the need for security and stability in the face of the threat posed by militias.
“The continued presence of non-state militias that are above the law and are undermining the state means the continuation of killing, kidnapping, looting, robbery and corruption,” Fr. al-Katib says.
The priest further points to the continuation of deteriorating economic conditions, unemployment, puritanical beliefs that reject development, the exclusion of the ‘other’ and the inappropriate involvement of religion in politics and trade.
Wishes for peace
Reflecting on the past Christmas celebrations, human rights advocate, Amr Yalda, notes that she and many others put in a lot of effort into preparing for the festivities. She said that believers shared their joy through the expression of various traditions, decorations, the exchange of gifts and religious rituals and hymns.
“Everyone was ready to receive the baby Jesus, and the atmosphere of celebration was wonderful and beautiful,” she said.
Yalda has many wishes for the new year but she insists that they begin with wishes of peace… “With every celebration of the birth of Christ, we hope that peace will prevail in our towns. With peace, most wishes come true, including security, love of neighbour and friend, and justice in all its forms.”
Joyful, yet on guard
Even though there are presently Christians in Qaraqosh and they were able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year freely, many still carry the fear that the hatred and destruction that dominated the country a few years ago will return.
“I am afraid about the near future, especially because this Christmas coincided with calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and there are signs of an economic crisis”, says Yalda. “We hope to God that there will be no demolishing storms to destroy what good hands and peace-seekers have participated in building.”
Yalda prays that God will protect Iraq and its people “from all evils, keeping external conflicts away from it, and granting us strength and faith to face all future challenges.”