“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

In Iraq, a New Generation of Assyrian Leaders

More than 1,800 young Christians from seven archdioceses and more than 60 parishes gathered in Ankawa, Iraq from June 29th to July 1st for the Ankawa Youth Meeting (AYM). Also in attendance were religious leaders from the Chaldean Catholic Church, the largest Christian church in Iraq.

The festival was held near Erbil in the Kurdish north of Iraq, and included Eucharistic celebrations, confession, retreats, seminars, debates, catechesis, and other forms of Christian education. Erbil became a haven for thousands of Christians fleeing persecution almost a decade ago, when Islamic fundamentalists of the Islamic State occupied Mosul and overran dozens of Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain.

“Christians in Iraq have faced many challenges since ISIS and before ISIS. They look to the Church to guide them and help build their future through pastoral work and related institutions; we now have six churches, a seminary, some catechist centres, four schools, a university, and a hospital,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in a message sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which helped to fund the gathering.

“The youth are our future. Our mission is to give the youth hope and purpose in their lives and in their homeland, nourishing their faith and providing them with skills that will help them overcome the challenges they face,” the archbishop added.

Yara Khorany was one of the participants in the AYM, and she sees this gathering as an opportunity to form future leaders. “We have all these young people, and they are all present here. These are the young Christian people of the region, and we don’t want them to go away. We don’t want them to leave the country. We want them to be here, and we want them to rebuild. Part of the mission is discovering new leaders, new potential, so that they can help the community to rebuild. The entire idea behind these kinds of events is to show that we are a living church, and that we are here, and do not want to leave this place,” says the 23-year-old volunteer, who is part of the event’s media team.

Stopping the exodus

Christians have left Iraq in droves over the past few decades, threatening the very existence of the community in the region. Even though the present situation is not as bad as it was when ISIS dominated a large swath of the country, including the second-largest city, Mosul, the Christian community still faces a difficult situation, according to Khorany. “There are still difficulties for Christians here. There is still some persecution because of religion. But it has changed in the sense that the Church is rebuilding; the Church is trying to discover more potential. There is this desire to recover as much as possible.”

Many of the young adults and children present at the meeting were directly affected by the worst of ISIS, but Khorany reports that this has not weakened their faith. On the contrary, she says, they want “to stay and support the Church, so that Christianity will not vanish from the region. There have been economic, social, and other effects, but people are holding onto the Christian faith, and people are trying to really apply these Christian values in their lives.

We are a people of peace. Our message is that even though these hardships are things we have experienced, we still want to promote peace. We want to promote a culture of coexistence with all the other religions and groups in the country.”

ACN has supported the Church in Iraq for many years and is a major partner in funding the AYM, covering over 70 percent of the total projected cost. Bishop Warda made a point of recognising this help in his message, saying that without it, the gathering would not have taken place, and Khorany confirms this. “We insist on standing on our own two feet, and we can only do that because of the help we are getting from ACN, so thank you very much for helping us rebuild,” she said.


By Maria Lozano

2023-07-13T06:04:59+00:00 July 13th, 2023|Categories: News|