Political instability, economic uncertainty, corruption, religious extremism, and reduction of educational offers are just some of the causes that push the Iraqi population to an unprecedented migration. The choice to remain in Iraq today is a really difficult decision, especially if you are a Christian. And yet Iraq disposes of remarkable natural resources and its people are endowed with humanity and great inclusion capacities. Just think of the plurality of the cultures, languages, and religions, and the various ethnic groups which for centuries had managed to coexist in peace. The habitat of Christian legacy right at its origins, for 2,000 years Iraq has been the natural home to very lively Christian communities.
With the outbreak of wars, however, today it has become the object of discrimination and persecution. The most atrocious even was two years ago, when the ISIS extremists took over Mossul and the surrounding plains: in a few hours thousands of Christians had to abandon their homes. With only the clothes they were wearing, they had to disperse amid numberless dangers and discomforts, towards Jordan or Lebanon where they found refuge in makeshift refugee camps. Some statistics say that the Christians in Iraq counted 1.5 million (2003), and today number 300,000.
Also the Focolare community has suffered the devastating effects of this barbarity. But both those who left the country and those who remained – concentrated in the cities of Erbil, Baghdad, Bassura, and Dohuk – try to transmit peace everywhere, building bridges of solidarity. However, while in the typical summer meetings of the Focolare in the past, the Mariapolis saw the participation of 400 people, and in those held from 9 to 11 September this year, only 40 attended. But the numerical drop has not influenced the qualitative profile which has definitely grown in intensity and depth, also because the central theme focused on interpersonal relationships undertaken in the spirit of mercy. Hosted in Sulaymaniya, close to the border with Iran, the participants lived three days of an authentic training in mutual love.
Racconta Rula, focolarina from Jordan and now in the focolare house of Erbil: «We prayed, played, took walks in a family atmosphere, experiencing real communion. During the session dedicated to the family, the spirit of sharing created allowed us to talk about relationships as couples, the challenge of migration, conciliation of work and family, education of the children… while the youths, through choreographies, showed how one we can become bridges towards the others.»
The Mariapolis was also visited by the Bishop of Baghdad, Bishop Salomone, who inflamed all with his words: «Jesus wants us to become yeast for this world. I am pleased that you chose this city for your meeting, and even if you are only a few, you will surely leave in this place that typical imprint of those who are seriously committed to living the Gospel.»
The focolare tries to support those who have remained, as also those who have decided to leave, precisely because they are aware of the difficulties of living without being able to plan one’s future, especially for the youth. «We see that albeit the fact of living abroad – continues Rula – they still want to remain in contact. A young boy wrote us from the refugee camp, saying that the spirituality of unity is the only light that is his support and that trying to love others gives a meaning to the unnerving wait they are undergoing.»
Among the many experiences shared in the Mariapolis, is the emblematic one of a surgeon in a public hospital. Since the doctors do not receive their salaries regularly, they try to plan the operations for the afternoon, when these are private and paid operations. But he decided to help as many people as possible by scheduling the appointments in the morning. At first, his colleagues criticized him, but slowly they began to do the same.