Erbil (AsiaNews) - It is in Iraq that the Church of the Arab world suffers today. That is where the passion of the mystical body of Christ is renewing itself, following the rule laid down by Saint Paul that "If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it".
Poignant and striking. There are no words strong enough to describe what our eyes saw yesterday in the distress of a part of the Church uprooted from the place where the Father's hand had planted it.
They left in a hurry and lost everything. Like this man from Qaraqosh who cannot get over the fact that he forgot the gold he sewed into his mattress when he packed in haste on that tragic night between 6 to 7 August. "I knew times were tough," he told us, his eyes wandering. "I converted into gold each dinar I had."
Or this other man, who first fled Baghdad for Mosul, and now had to flee again to Erbil, who has nothing to lose . . . literally nothing.
All this terrible suffering, which cannot be compared to that felt by those who did not lose something, but lost someone, or left their souls behind.
Incidentally, people continue to flee Qaraqosh and the villages in the Nineveh Plains, said one of the refugees. Those late in escaping flee at night for during the day they live holed up in their homes and avoid appearing at the windows.
Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako, the Chaldean spiritual leader, spontaneously used the word "nakba", catastrophe, used by Palestinians for their exodus of 1948, to describe what happened in waves in the past few months, and how an entire people was expelled from its land, as if nothing had happened, under the passive eyes of the international community.
One by one, the patriarchs and their assistants explain, from the centre under their authority, the measures taken to coordinate relief for those expelled by the Islamic state.
Under the blazing sun and scorching wind of August in Aïnkwa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees, men aimlessly wait as do women, their eyes weary and questioning, at the Church of St Joseph near the Chaldean bishop's palace or around the Assyrian and Syriac churches. The moral anguish is even crueller than the physical distress. Only children survive and laugh, oblivious to the unfolding tragedy. For them, it is holiday time. For adults, this trial will be bearable only if it is short.
Yet, relief work is underway with priests showing admirable abnegation, hard at work from 7 am to 1 am, with Iraqi and foreign volunteers who selflessly donate their time.
Makeshift clinics are set up in tents. Blowers and compressors for air conditioning are brought out, especially around the Mar Shmoni "camp". But there is still much work to do to help out the worse-off refugees who are living in end of the world conditions.
This is particularly true for those who have found temporary shelter in a large unfinished building located near the Chaldean bishop's palace, whose still open spaces are partitioned by makeshift curtains, with mattresses and blankets, canvas tents, oilskins, stools and waste bins ... like the ruins of a cinema where the survivors of an atomic explosion linger on.
We are all Chaldeans
"Today, we are all Chaldeans of Iraq," said Maronite Patriarch Beshara al Rahi in his weekly catechesis from St Joseph's Church. "Today the Church in Iraq holds in its body the suffering of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Today through their suffering, Christians in Iraq are redeeming their homeland."
To Christians flayed alive by the pain of being uprooted, by anger and despair, he addressed a daring message of hope, well received by humble people who still know to kiss the cross or the ring of the patriarchs and bishops, who make their way in their mist, stroking the cheeks of the little ones, blessing children and making a furtive sign of the cross on their foreheads.
Neither were Yazidi refugees in Erbil deprived of this blessing, as the son of their emir, present during the catechesis, very discreetly received a cash donation from the patriarchs of tens of thousands of dollars to assist the martyred refugees of his community.