MAGGIE KNOELL STAFF WRITER Photo by: Rachael Alexander Students filled the International Lounge for a panel presentation by Iraqi high school students on the life of persecuted Christians in Iraq Monday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.
Professionally dressed and ready to speak, eight high school sophomores from Erbil, Iraq, educated the audience on the history of the church in the East and their experiences as Christians in Muslim Iraq. The presenters began the night by leading the audience in the Aramaic Our Father, allowing audience members to experience the prayer in the language Jesus spoke. The visiting students gave a detailed history of the one of the oldest Christian communities in Mesopotamia (now known as Iraq) from Jesus’ time to the present day. The Chaldean Catholic church in particular is one of the most common Christian churches in Iraq, the students explained. The Chaldean church also had the greatest geographical reach of any Christian church in the Middle Ages as it extended out from the Middle East as far as India and China. Christians of the Iraqi region were conquered several times throughout their church history but suffered especially under the Arabs. Today, Christians commonly face persecution through taxation and, more drastically, murder. The teenagers also shared the story of the Rev. Ragheed Aziz Ganni, a pastor at Holy Spirit Church in Mosul. He and several bishops were murdered by terrorists in 2007, shortly after building this church. Terrorists warned Ganni not to build this church, but the priest’s response was “How could you not open a church, and (how could you) prevent people from praying?” Because of Ganni’s love for Christ, he was willing to risk his life to bring others to the faith. Even with all the dangers that face the church, the high school students ended the night saying that they are still optimistic and that they make their own future. All they asked from the audience was plenty of prayers. Freshman Niki Mallinak said that these students were “some of the bravest high schoolers I’ve ever met. … They are in tenth grade, and they’re coming here, giving us a history of their entire culture and what they go through on a daily basis. … It’s definitely more complicated than I had been aware of, which is good to know.”