The mission “Mary Help of Christians” took place in Iraq from August 6 to 25, 2018. This is the fifth time that the Jeunes Pros de Saint-Nicolas-de-Chardonnet have gone to Iraq with the organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient. A report:
For me, this was my first experience, and it was short, but I was able to gather testimonies, help the families concretely a little bit, and acquire a deeper understanding of the missionary spirit of the Church.
When we arrived in Erbil, our group – about fifteen people – left for Duhok to work on a hostel for the diocese, then for Kommany, a small village in Kurdistan where we had to repair several homes. But besides the material help that is limited by time and our limited resources, the goal of the mission is above all to encourage these Christians by our presence, to pray with them and listen to them.
We were welcomed warmly by the families, and we were able to organize activities for the children, with whom we bonded very quickly. We participated in the festivities in honor of the Assumption on August 15, and the next day, we attended the First Communions of a dozen children.
We thus realized more deeply the unity of Christianity through attachment to one common Faith that goes beyond cultural differences. It is striking, however, to see that these isolated populations in a hostile Muslim society define themselves first and foremost, and even only, as Christians, without making any distinction between their private lives and public lives.
These faithful spoke to us over and over of the weakening Christian presence in the region, of the difficulties of their living conditions, and their worries for the future. A farmer in Kommany told us that the Muslims are rerouting most of their water sources. Many have a hard time finding work and are tempted to leave as soon as they are able to. Because they constantly feel despised and powerless, it is very important to show them that they are not forgotten by other Christians.
In Duhok, the Abuna (their name for priests) told us that the people are astonished at receiving spontaneous and free help; and he exhorted his young parishioners to devote themselves like the French volunteers come to visit them. For us, their example shows us the need for lucidity as to the dangers of Islam, and the necessity of bearing witness to the Christian Faith.
During the mission, there were important times set aside for prayer and formation for the volunteers: Mass, the Rosary, meditation. Our chaplain, Fr. Michel de Sivry, preached on the missionary virtues: adapting oneself to people and their situations, strength and confidence, a life of prayer, devotion to Mary. Sanctity put into practice, and truly overflowing into action. Each volunteer was given an expose to do on various subjects: “Crusade and Jihad”, “Can a Catholic Be Identitarian?”, “The Dominican Presence in Iraq” ... This helps learn to have serious arguments on fundamental issues and to deepen our knowledge of the religious history of the country we are discovering.
Sometimes we are able to create a lasting contact between French and Iraqi religious communities: the Dominicans of Saint-Pré (France) have their students pray for the children in the catechism classes of the Dominicans of Teleskuff (Iraq). We sent rosaries made by the students and an offering, the fruit of their Lenten sacrifice. An Iraqi sister spoke of her formation in France and her translations of spiritual works in French. Before we left, these Dominican sisters showed us the statue of the Blessed Virgin that was miraculously spared when the buildings were sacked by Daesh.
The mission does not end with our return to France; we now have a double responsibility: to pray and to bear witness for the persecuted Christians we met in the East.
-- Apolline de Vigouroux d’Arvieu