Three Syriac Catholic priests have been ordained in a refugee camp near the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Erbil two years after they were forced to flee their home in Iraq after it was invaded by Islamic State militants.
The ordination took place in a temporary chapel in the Aishty 2 camp, which is the temporary home for about 5,500 people, most of whom are Syriac Catholics from the same town of the ordained priests, Qaraqosh. The town - which prior to the invasion was considered to be Iraq's Christian capital - is still under control of Islamic State militants whose invasion of the city was so rapid that some of the refugees had no time to gather any belongings before fleeing on foot for the border.
Fr. Roni Salim Momika, one of the three new priests, noted that the 6 August ordination was two years to the day since Islamic State attacked his hometown of Qaraqosh and drove out anyone who would not convert to Islam, pay thejizya, (an Islamic tax which IS demands from non-Muslims), or be executed.
After the attack, the seminary in Qaraqosh was closed, and four of its seminarians moved to a seminary in Lebanon. They returned to Iraq for their ordination to the diaconate, after which one of the four, now Fr. Paul, went to serve in Baghdad. He was ordained there last month, while Frs. Momika, Emad and Petros were ordained in Erbil last Friday. The ordination was carried out by Archbishop Yohanno Petros Mosche, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan.
Since their exile from Qaraqosh, many refugees at the camps around Erbil have spoken about a reticence to return home when the militants are ousted. Reports of people's houses in the northern Iraq city being used as execution chambers and the general turbulence in the area have made many nervous of going back. Though their exile has been “a time of challenge” and “a time of sadness” for the Qaraqosh Christians, the joy and promise of the ordination made this year’s anniversary of their expulsion “a happy time, a hopeful time, and a good time”, said Fr. Momika.
The new priest said that though the camp’s church only has capacity for about 800 people, around 1,500 came to the ordination.
Before his ordination, Fr. Momika worked with young people and led women’s groups in the camps in and around Erbil, and he will continue to do this for the time being, he said. He wants “to stand with the refugees”, and give the Christians of Iraqi Kurdistan “power, hope, and courage to continue their lives and stay with the poor people”. His vocation, he says, is “to give Christ to the people”.