Refugees in Iraq hope to rebuild their lives

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by Bishop William Murphy
Bishop William F. Murphy right, walks with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil at St. Peter’s Seminary in Ankawa, Iraq, April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Bishop Murphy traveled with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), to Iraqi Kurdistan this week on a pastoral visit to that region’s displaced Christian families. The group spent April 9-11 in Kurdistan, the autonomous region of northern Iraq. Bishop Murphy sent this blog from the trip.

You can read more about the pastoral visit here.

Sunday was a long day but filled with moments that touched our hearts. In the town of Dhoc, Catholic Near East (CNEWA) built, equipped and funds a dispensary that serves refugees from Syria and displaced person (IDP) from within Iraq. The doctors and staff nurses and pharmacists are first rate. The people are the victims of ISIS, which here is called Daesh. The hope they all expressed was to go home and rebuild their lives.

At the two refugee camps we visited we heard the same hope time and time again. One camp was the creation of local Christian groups with help from CNEWA and other Catholic agencies. A second was a government of Kurdistan initiative that included Muslims, Yzidis and Christians. The Christians would take my pectoral cross. kiss it and place it momentarily on their foreheads.

This same gesture was repeated after the Mass we concelebrated in the  Chaldean Rite in the village of Inishke.  The

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York greets parishioners who kiss his pectoral cross after Mass in a displaced-persons camp in Ankawa, near Irbil, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

refugees participated in the Mass and we shared a meal with them after Mass.  They were so proud of being able to offer us a true banquet from their limited means and it was delicious.

We are off now (Monday morning) first to visit a dispensary the extraordinary Dominican sisters have in Mar Shmouna and then to join the seminarians whose seminary is the pride and joy of their Archbishop, Msgr. Bashra Warda.  He has plans for a university one day.  Then two more large refugee camps under UN auspices. We end the day together at Mass in the Aishty camp where the principal celebrant will be Patriarch Yiuseff Yiuban head of the Syrian Catholic Church.

Tomorrow we leave for home.