Iraqis hold own WYD

Singer Abir Nehme from LebanonSinger Abir Nehme from LebanonBEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS): When Iraqi youths were not granted visas for World Youth Day in Australia, Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic bishops decided they would bring World Youth Day to Iraq.

The bishops organised processions, catechesis, the Way of the Cross and Masses in several northern Iraqi cities.

More than 6600 Iraqi youths participated in the alternative World Youth Day.

Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, invited Lebanese Capuchin Father Joseph Azzo to travel to Iraq for the July 16-20 gatherings.

Fr Azzo invited Lebanese singer Abir Nehme to accompany him.

Even a day before their departure from Lebanon on July 14, the small entourage of Fr Azzo and musicians still did not have the needed funds for their airfare to Iraq.

Fr Azzo said he prayed and, “miraculously, three benefactors came through just in time to pay” for a large portion of the trip.

Ms Nehme, a 26-year-old Maronite Catholic, said it was her dream “to go and see the Christians of Iraq and to do something for them”.

Fr Azzo is no stranger to Iraq. The 42-year-old Chaldean Capuchin had visited 11 times before to preach to Iraqi Christians.

Ms Nehme said the experience was totally different than she had imagined.

Iraqi Christians “have so much love to give, so much innocence. So much purity,” she said.

“They believe in tomorrow in a way that’s amazing. They believe that tomorrow is a better day.

“You always see death and pain on TV’s images of Iraq. We saw that. But we also saw peace, joy, hope, singing, music and living faith,” Ms Nehme said.

Ms Nehme performed traditional Maronite and Syriac hymns and praise songs.

A French delegation from the peace movement Pax Christi also attended the gatherings.

The celebrations culminated with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Sako at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Kirkuk on July 20. About 2000 Iraqi