Don Paul Thabit Mekko, in charge of the refugee camp "Eyes of Erbil" speaks of Holy Week. The community organizes fundraising and money to be donated to the poorest Christian and Muslim families. The desire to revive traditions and songs of native villages, praying to one day return to their homes. The community keeps hope alive.
Erbil (AsiaNews) - A collection organized by a group of Christians, who have decided to "put aside basic necessities and money" to be donated to the poorest and neediest families (Christian and Muslim). And again: whole families involved in the preparation of "decorations and garlands to adorn and beautify the churches". The Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh plain, now housed in shelters in Iraqi Kurdistan, are planning an Easter of solidarity. Don Paul Thabit Mekko, 40-year old Chaldean priest from Mosul, is responsible for the refugee camp "Eyes of Erbil", outside the capital. The hostel houses 140 families, about 700 people in all, with 46 mini-apartments and an area in which the collection and distribution of aid is made.
Added to this is a nursery for toddlers as well as a kindergarten and a secondary school.
Holy Week in the Christian community, a victim of persecution and suffering, reminds everyone that "there is still life, there is hope," says Don Paul, who continuously "encourages the faithful urging them to stand firm in the faith . Their deepest desire is to return one day to their homes. " "We must never - he adds – lose our fervor, lose the desire to celebrate".
Among the various events organized this year there is a collection that involved some families of the center: "Those who have received aid - says the priest - have put aside money and basic necessities to be donated to the poorest families. Not only Christian, but also Muslim". "We hope this Easter - he says - is really our last as refugees. We hope to return to our homes, to our villages, and that this festival is an opportunity to remind the world of our misfortune, our pain, our suffering ".
The Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh plain are preparing for Easter "reviving the traditions and the songs" from the villages, before the arrival of the militias of the Islamic State (IS). The faithful seek to "recover what they left behind" in an attempt to rediscover "the sense of belonging to their place of origin."
"Compared to the past there are differences," says Don Paul. "Ceremonies and liturgies had a peculiar character, according to the customs of the Fathers. On Good Friday in my village we sang local songs" and the community participated with great devotion. Today, however, the families of the Nineveh plain are scattered in the various reception centers in Erbil and Kurdistan, others have fled abroad to Jordan, Lebanon, and others to Europe or North America.
"Here, now, there is a great mixture of refugees - says the priest - who come from different places and have different traditions. It is no longer a village feast and even if they live in Ankawa [the Christian quarter of Erbil] they are struggling to stay in touch with each other. Here too they live like a diaspora". This is why Don Paul has promoted community activities that aim to recover the traditions of the native villages. "With the faithful of Karemles, where I was pastor - he says - for the Palm Sunday we held a small procession in the camp. Of course, it was not an impressive march as in the days of the village, but we still sang traditional songs. A lady drew a picture with a reproduction of the great hill of St. Barbara, overlooking the village. Although these are small signs of belonging, the attempt to maintain a link with the land that they had to abandon".
Other initiatives planned in the coming days include a meeting between the families of the reception center for the exchange of greetings and gifts; and again, the distribution of Easter eggs and a community celebration in the main square of the camp. Of course, these are different celebrations from those of the past, reminds the priest, when "they organized real games, dances were held, there was singing and dancing, solemn processions through the streets of the village. However, the overall situation is grim, even here in Kurdistan and this really discourages large scale celebrations".
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Fr. Paul speaks with "excitement" and "emotion" about the first Mass "for three years" in the church of Mar Addai. The little town of the Nineveh Plains has long been in the hands of the Islamic State, which devastated the place of worship. Dozens of buses and private vehicles from Erbil to attend the celebration. Streamed live over Facebook.
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