Wameedh Khalid Francis, 21, is one of 15 students attending St Peter’s Chaldean Seminary in Ankawa. He had his first inklings of a vocation when he went to church during childhood. The priest of Telskuf set an example during the early rise of the Islamic State. Service is the heart of the mission. This is the second part of a report on vocations in Iraq.
Erbil (AsiaNews) – In the current context in Iraq and the world, the priestly and monastic vocations are “the pinnacle of love and service,” said Wameedh Khalid Francis, one of 15 students attending St Peter’s Chaldean Seminary in Ankawa, the Christian neighbourhood in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
In the village of Telskuf, he underwent this experience following the attack by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014, which “destroyed everything,” he told AsiaNews.
“In a dangerous context [caused by the jihadi advance], the priest did his utmost as an engineer and as the humblest of workers: people turned to him for everything.
“In this situation, I understood the meaning of mission;” for this reason, “I urge young people to undertake the loving service that our world needs today.”
Wameedh Khalid Francis, 21, hails from Telskuf, a Christian village in the Nineveh Plain, northern Iraq, where he completed his studies up to high school.
He comes from a large family, with a brother, four sisters and their parents, growing up in harmony despite hardships, aggravated by the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq and Syria.
Recently, the Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, launched an appeal saying that the country and its Church need “new vocations, both male and female”.
Speaking first to families, he told them to encourage and support their children in this choice by nurturing their faith “through prayer and contemplation”.
In Wameedh Khalid Francis’s case, “I felt for the first time the desire for the priestly vocation at the age of 12. At the time, I used to attend church every day and serve Mass as an altar boy.
“One day I asked the priest to take me to the monastery to visit it. However, I was still very young . . . He advised me to finish high school first and then come back in case I still had a strong desire to become a priest.”
Today Iraq is still in a critical situation due to sectarian violence and widespread corruption. The Christian community must struggle to keep its culture, presence and traditions alive despite the massive exodus of recent years.
“In this context, the heart of the mission is precisely to serve our people, with the love and dedication that Christ himself taught us. Again, we are called to make Jesus known by proclaiming and witnessing through our actions to those who do not yet know him,” cognizant of the fact that Iraq is largely Muslim, characterised by rifts and tensions between Sunnis and Shias.
For Wameedh Khalid Francis, the best way to respond to the primary task of proclamation “is to live the Gospel in a total and radical way” and show it to people.
“Today’s world needs more deeds, [more] seeds planted in the ground than words” which too often are empty or unheeded. It needs people, like the priest in Telskuf, bearing witness through works and deeds to confront the huge demands of people in need, desperate in the face of the jihadi tragedy.
To his peers, male or female, he wants to show the beauty of priestly service and consecrated life. “Becoming a priest, a monk or a nun,” says the seminarian, “means living the Christian mission in its fullness.” This “involves total service, even if it has greater value and breadth for a priest or a consecrated person ” than any other profession or lifestyle.
For Wameedh Khalid Francis, many saints influenced his spiritual and vocational training, “but one stands out, Saint Charbel,” a 19th century Lebanese Maronite monk who was canonised in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. Several miraculous healings are attributed to him and he is among the best known and revered figures of the Church in the East.
Finally, the Chaldean seminarian turns his thoughts to the world’s Catholic community, especially Catholics in the West, which has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Christians who have fled from Iraq in recent years.
“To you, Christians and peoples of the West, I ask you not to forget us, and to always pray for us, that peace may reign throughout the East, so that Christians can finally live in peace in their land.”
(End of part two)