(Catholic Herald UK) As secretary to Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, FrÂ Rami Wakim has met scores of Syrian refugees, but said he was shocked at the flood of displaced Iraqis he encountered in Irbil, Iraq.
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 FrÂ Wakim described mattresses scattered around church altars. Various rooms in the churches were filled to capacity â€“ up to 50 people sleeping in areas the size of a single bedroom â€“ with the overflow spreading onto church grounds, parking lots and streets, now dotted with makeshift tents in the 105-degree heat.
â€œThe 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, in only a matter of hours, these soldiers abandoned them, laying down their weapons,â€ FrÂ 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.
â€œThey all fled at the same time without taking anythingâ€ with them, FrÂ Wakim told the American Catholic News Service. [more]