MPs witness suffering of Iraq’s refugee families
• Three MPs joined a Catholic charity’s project trip to see the situation of refugees in Erbil, northern Iraq, who are being cared for by the Church.
By John Newton
The visit, organised by Aid to the Church in Need, not only included visits to camps for displaced families and meetings with high-ranking prelates and government officials, but also an ordination ceremony.
Jim Shannon MP for Strangford, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, said: “It was illuminating, it was heartening, it was humbling. For me, it was an opportunity to see in some places a very thriving Church, and in other places a very persecuted Church, to meet some of those who had to flee with only the shirt on their backs as Daesh (ISIS) descended upon them to do their worst.”
Also on the ACN project trip, which finished on Sunday 11th September, were Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, and Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde. The trip included a visit to Ashty 2 Camp, Ankawa, Erbil where 5,500 people are living in 1,088 housing units.
Talking about seeing the camps, Jim Shannon MP said: “There were many things that impressed me, but one thing that impressed me greatly was when we went around the camps and I met some of the displaced people was this – they had lost so much, but they had on their walls a picture of the Lord Jesus with the words: ‘Jesus I will trust in thee’. “For me though it was their Faith that was sustaining them, so it was an important visit to make and one that I’ll never forget.”
(The delegation at the aid distribution centre in Erbil: (left to right) Neville Kyrke-Smith (National Director, ACN (UK)); Canon Pat Browne, Catholic Duty Chaplain to Parliament; Jim Shannon, MP; Archbishop Bashar Warda; Mark Menzies, MP; Chris Green, MP; Fr Dominic Robinson (National Ecclesiastical Assistant, ACN (UK)); Dr Caroline Hull (NW Manager, ACN(UK) © Aid to the Church in Need
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who is overseeing the Church’s aid efforts, said that the overall number of Christian families in the camps has fallen from 120,000 to 100,000. Many families have left the country. Archbishop Warda told MPs that his top priorities were renting houses for the displaced, providing them with food, setting up more medical centres, and giving families pastoral and spiritual support.
He decried the lack of aid from the Iraqi government in Baghdad, saying they had provided no help, but thanked charities, including Aid to the Church in Need which assisted with €10 million last year for a range of projects in Iraq. The Chaldean Archbishop said: “We rely on you telling the story of the situation and the importance of Christians remaining, so that the Christians can help be a bridge between the different groups.”
MPs and ACN staff also attended ordinations held in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ankawa – which included that of 25-year-old Fr Martin Banni, who trained at St Peter’s Seminary, Erbil. While many members of Father Banni’s family have left Iraq for the US or Sweden, he decided to remain in Iraq to minister to those still there. Head of the Chaldean Church Patriarch Raphael Sako said: “This ordination is a sign of hope – we hope that the refugees will be able to go home soon. Father Martin should be a model of Christ – of courage and sacrifice.”
The trip also included a meeting with Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Kurdish Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations.
Jim Shannon MP said: “To meet some of the families and some of the individuals who had lost loved ones to me will make a very big difference to the next time I pray.” He revealed that he had been regularly praying for Iraq and its Christian community. Mr Shannon added: “The next time I pray it will be through the experiences we’ve had. That was why it was so important to be there personally.
“I also saw what Aid to the Church in Need does physically and spiritually to support our Christian brothers and sisters – ensuring that help is given at every level that is humanly possible. I was impressed by that …. and also the resilience of the Iraqis themselves to come through things that we can’t imagine, in ways that have changed their lives – probably forever in many cases.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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