Fr Samir Youssef talks about a plan for outreach and exchange to rebuild a social fabric broken by the Jihadi madness. Weekly meetings, summer camps, films and exchanges are dedicated to interfaith dialogue. Pope Francis is a model of teaching known and appreciated by Muslim and Yazidi families.
Erbil (AsiaNews) – In order to overcome the murderous madness of the Islamic State, which has covered with blood a land already brutalised by years of wars and violence, it is necessary to start with "a plan of dialogue and outreach at the local level", involving first of all children and young people, the new generations, "who will be tasked with building life together" beyond their respective religions.
Starting from such premises, Fr Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan) who has long been on the frontline of the refugee emergency, is promoting a project to transform "young Muslims, Christians and Yazidis" into "seeds of dialogue " to breathe new life into Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and Iraq as a whole.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the priest mentioned an initiative that is in its initial stage, but one that has already garnered "the enthusiastic participation" of some thirty of kids, aged 10 to 16, from various religious background. "We started with a group of about 30-35 kids,” Fr Samir said, “but we want to increase the numbers for the summer, involving young people from high school and university."
The aim is to find youth "eager to talk, communicate, and bear witness" that living together is possible and that from this, a model can emerge applicable across the country, and beyond.
"We have already started to meet," he added, "although getting the first results will take some time. At the moment, the first group, the base on which to start working, has been found. It includes a dozen Christians, eight Muslims and seven Yazidis. There are also Sabians and Turkmen."
As parish priest in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), Fr Samir is responsible for about 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families who fled their homes and property in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to escape Jihadis. Since the summer of 2014 and the start of the emergency, the clergyman has played a key role. Working with him and Iraqi bishops, AsiaNews has recently renewed its Adopt a Christian of Mosul campaign to provide refugees with kerosene, shoes, clothing, and school material for children.
To start with, the group has already met twice to lay the foundations for future work, which will continue through the summer. "With this experience, the group can become the salt and the light of this land, and involve the whole population, talking first of all at home, explaining issues and arguments at meetings. This way they can make other religions known to their families, creating a common basis for dialogue. Often, great things stem from small ones."
The pastor wants to promote many ideas and plans at these meetings: from the stories of "special" children who lived under the Islamic State (IS) and those who lost a father or a mother to the jihadists, to summer camps open to young people of all faiths to develop even greater outreach and exchange.
"We would also like to screen films during the meetings centred on God, religions, and spirituality,” Fr Samir said. “The first one could be Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty, in which the protagonist thinks he is replacing God by solving everything, but then discovers his limits and the need for patience to get lasting results."
With the fruit of the work of this first group of young people, which could be expanded, we can "create a website that presents the meetings, trips, and stories." Unlike other social media that too often espouse hate and division, such a page could be a "virtual place for outreach and exchange, a testimony to living together."
"It is necessary to start with this country’s new generations, a land crossed by four great rivers: the Tigris, the Euphrates, petroleum and great religions. Such a flow of power and life can bring peace to the world from a land that has always been a beacon of civilisation since ancient times."
For Fr Samir, to achieve such goals "starting from my parish", it is necessary to look "to the testimony and teachings of Pope Francis, starting from his last apostolic journey to Egypt. The visit has been followed closely, bearing witness to the path of dialogue and outreach.”
“For me, Francis is a great teacher. He is increasingly appreciated and followed by Muslim and Yazidi families when they come to see me. Although they are not Christians, they ask me to talk to them about the pontiff’s latest speeches and stories." (DS)
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