Deacons’ Ordination Designed to Bring Hope in Northern Iraq

AIN KAWA, Iraq (CNS) — Despite the pain of recent loss of family and ancestral homes at the hands of Islamist extremists, Iraqi Catholics welcomed four seminarians — three as deacons, one as a subdeacon — in a ceremony meant to encourage renewed hope for the future.

“Of course, we are so pleased for the ordination of these young men who will be priests. It’s a symbol of renewed life for us and the church. Jesus Christ is present among us,” said Sister Marcelle Senat, who was forced to escape Mosul last June when Islamic State militants overran the seat of the Christians’ historic heartland in Iraq.

“This ordination is wonderful. It’s a true sign to the world of the perseverance of our faith in Jesus Christ,” said Sister Marcelle, a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who now works with displaced Iraqi children.

About 1,500 Catholic clergy, religious and laity packed St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Cathedral 16 January at the ordination service led by Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil; Baghdad Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni, president of Caritas Iraq; and Duhok Bishop Rabban al Qas.

Families with young children bundled in winter coats huddled in the pews next to village men wearing traditional white-and-black checkered headscarves to keep warm in the icy and rainy weather.

Several times, the congregation was encouraged to look to the future and follow Jesus in the midst of violence and destruction. Those in attendance also were urged to celebrate the young men for their dedication to the Lord.

Several women broke out in a wavering, high-pitched ululation, normally used at weddings in the Arab world; on this day, they celebrated the future priests.

“Jesus Christ gives us the power to overcome,” Archbishop Warda told those assembled. “He helps those in need, those fleeing violence and turmoil, and gives us a future.”

“Jesus is close to the poor and those poor in spirit,” he said. “It’s important to understand this in the trials we face.”

A delegation of U.S. Catholics — led by Bishop Oscar Cantu, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in conjunction with Catholic Relief Services — attended the ceremony. Caritas and CRS have been active in provided badly needed assistance to Iraq’s internally displaced Christians and other religious minorities.

“Today is a great event for the people of Iraq, especially those Christians who have suffered displacement from their homes and their cultural roots, Georgina Betnam, a teacher and writer originally from Mosul, told Catholic News Service.

“This is our hope: to have such people and priests living and serving here in the Middle East, where Christianity and our heritage have their foundation,” Betnam said.

The United Nations estimates more than 2 million people are displaced within Iraq. Most are Christians and other religious minorities, such as the Yazidis, forced to escape the onslaught of Islamic State fighters who demanded they leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or face death.

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