CNEWA

Hope for Iraq’s Christians

“We are building the future here,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda, the industrious Chaldean Catholic prelate of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, of his efforts to develop and strengthen the Christian community in the region. 

“The youth just need a push,” he said. “They will take over.”

Indeed. 

Continuing his pastoral visit to the north of Iraq, CNEWA President Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari visited the many works of the churches thriving in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa, a sprawling area of flashy new construction, traffic circles and congestion, where many Iraqi Christians now live and work seven years after the horrors of ISIS shattered their villages and lives. 

Archbishop Warda, no stranger to North American readers, has advocated tirelessly for the Iraqi people, particularly its marginalized and vulnerable Christian and Yazidi communities. After offering shelter and refuge for the families of the nearby Nineveh Plain displaced by ISIS in August 2014, he began to develop educational and health care programs to help families cope with the shock and build life anew. From these initiatives developed quality institutions, the presence of which offer hope and stability, while providing employment opportunities, and education and health care for all. 

At the heart of Mar Qardakh School, the Catholic University of Erbil and Maryamana Hospital are the young women and men, motivated by the Gospel and empowered by the archbishop. 

“We began as volunteers,” said Devar Nazar Sher, a medical doctor who worked in the emergency dispensaries and clinics, funded in part by CNEWA, serving the displaced in Erbil. 

Now, with ISIS behind us, we are working on strengthening our capacity to “build our future,” he said of the Ankawa Humanitarian Committee, the community development association of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil, initiated by Archbishop Warda. 

“This frees me,” said the archbishop, “to focus on my pastoral responsibilities,” while securing our initiatives for the future, he added. 

Monsignor Peter I. Vaccari speaks with Dr. Devar Nazar Sher, executive director of the Ankawa Humanitarian Committee. (photo: Michael La Civita)

That future is now at the Catholic University of Erbil, where Devar’s fiancée, Vida Hanna, directs the public and international relations office. A recent graduate of the University of San Diego’s graduate school in peace and justice studies, Vida spoke movingly of the young men and women enrolled in the university, which offers a host of degrees from engineering to humanities. 

In discussing student life, she remarked that the university not only strives for academic excellence, but to tend to the emotional and psychological scars suffered at the hands of ISIS — particularly the Yazidi students who experienced the full horrors of the genocidal forces of hate unleashed in Iraq in 2014. 

“The university offers a safe place and professional counseling to those who need it and want it,” she added, commenting that men rarely speak of their brokenness, letting their guard down for few, if ever. 

Vida takes special pride in the number of women studying at CUE; they make up about 60 percent of the university student population. 

More than 100 students attend the recently established university and plans to enroll another 500 are in the works. 

“Helas, we need to move beyond the caravan mentality,” said the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Kurdistan, Nizar Semaan, a newly created jurisdiction set up to accommodate the post-displacement reality of his community. The containers and caravans served us well, said the youthful archbishop, but “we are investing to build a place of hope for years to come.”

From left to right: Monsignor Peter I. Vaccari, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nizar Semaan of of Kurdistan, Michel Constantin, regional director of CNEWA’s Beirut office, and Michael La Civita, CNEWA communications director. (photo: courtesy of Michael La Civita)

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