As secretary to the Melkite Catholic Patriarch, Fr Rami Wakim has met scores of Syrian refugees. But he said he was shocked at the flood of displaced Iraqis he encountered in Irbil, Iraq, reports The Catholic Herald.
The Melkite priest accompanied the August 20 delegation of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs to Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of the country, on a mission to show their support for the persecuted Christians and other minorities who sought refuge there after being expelled from their homes by the Islamic State fighters.
The delegation visited the displaced at three different churches, and Fr Wakim described mattresses scattered around church altars. Various rooms in the churches were filled to capacity – up to 50 people sleeping in areas the size of a single bedroom – with the overflow spreading onto church grounds, parking lots and streets, now dotted with makeshift tents in the 105-degree heat.
“The people are angry because the government just gave up on them. They told us that, in Mosul, where there had normally been a presence of 60,000 soldiers, after the onslaught of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), in only a matter of hours, these soldiers abandonned them, laying down their weapons,” Fr Wakim said.
Mosul is now completely empty of Christians as is Qaraqosh, a town dating back to 1,000 years before Christ and inhabited by mostly Christians for 2,000 years. More than 100,000 people are displaced from Mosul alone.
“They all fled at the same time without taking anything” with them, Fr Wakim told the American Catholic News Service.
Expelled from their ancestral lands by the militants of the Islamic State, the displaced Iraqis have put their trust in church leaders and are leaning heavily on their own faith.
This was evident, Fr Wakim said, in the way swarms of people crowded around the patriarchs, kissing the crosses and medals adorning their vestments, asking the prelates for blessings and to pray over the sick.
Photo: Refugees chased out of Nineveh province by Islamic State
Priest shocked by conditions for Iraqi Christian refugees (The Catholic Herald)