(Vatican Radio) The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has visited Erbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, to meet with Christian refugees whose towns and villages were overrun by so-called Islamic State militants. Over 120.000 men, women and children fled from their homes with just a few hours’ notice and found sanctuary, first in makeshift camps and now in more stable containers or rented housing.
The cardinal, who arrived in the region on Saturday, said he had not heard calls for British troops to be sent to Iraq, but he stressed there are many other ways in which Western governments can help to liberate and secure the territory that was overrun by militants last August. He said he’ll be sharing stories of the resilience of the refugees, including two elderly women who resisted demands by their captors to convert to Islam or face death. The cardinal, who heads the Catholic bishops conference of England and Wales, said he’ll be telling the British government “they should never underestimate the benefit and strength and resource” of the Christian faith in the search for stability across the war-torn region.
Philippa Hitchen spoke to Cardinal Nichols to find out more about the two day trip and about the message he’s taking back to people in the United Kingdom...
As a guest of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, the cardinal said he visited several of the centres where displaced families are being given stability and support to help recover from their traumatic experiences. As well as providing for their immediate needs, he said, Archbishop Warda is also seeking to invest in the future of the region through school programmes for the refugee children and plans to establish a university in Erbil. He said he heard horrific stories of immense suffering, of great anger and frustration “but also of great generosity which is really inspirational”….
The refugees, the cardinal noted, are being supported “in a manner which does not remove their dignity” or make them dependent, but helps them to move from their traumatic experiences to taking responsibility and making plans for the future. He said the Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic and Chaldean Churches are all working together towards this goal, which is described as “an example for us”….
The vast majority of the displaced people, who come from villages in the Nineveh Plains, Cardinal Nichols said, want to return home but know that it won’t be easy, particularly for those from the city of Mosul. After the territory has been liberated, he said, it has to be secured and cleared of mines, before the work can begin of rebuilding institutions and the rule of law, and finally the long term task of repairing social cohesion and overcoming fear…
We cannot think of the future of this region, the cardinal insisted, without the Christian community being present. He noted that it would be “very helpful” if the British government could publically recognize “the specificity of the gifts (of) the Christian community” and the resilience of faith in helping face the challenges of the whole region…..
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