Displaced Iraqi children stand in a classroom of a school used as a shelter in the city of Ramadi April 11. Educating children is the best way to help displaced Iraqi Christians recover from the traumatic experience of being chased from their homes by Is lamic State militants, said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster after an April 11-12 visit to Irbil. CNS photo/Reuters

Cardinal says education is key to Iraqi refugees' recovery

By  Elliot Williams, Catholic News Service
  • April 14, 2015

VATICAN CITY - Educating children is the best way to help displaced Iraqi Christians recover from the traumatic experience of being chased from their homes by Islamic State militants, said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, after an April 11-12 visit to Irbil.

"Help is being given in a manner that does not remove the dignity of the people who have been displaced. This is not an exercise in making people dependent," the British cardinal told Vatican Radio after his visit.

Helping the displaced transition from trauma to full functionality is an important goal, the cardinal said, which is why he supports Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda's goal of building a school system and, eventually, a university.

While the Christian refugees certainly hope to return home someday, it is important to forge a sustainable system of living while residing in their temporary homes in Irbil, Cardinal Nichols said.

A complex series of steps would be needed before the displaced could return home, he said: The Ninevah plain, which is under Islamic State control, would have to be liberated; villages would have to be secured; a justice system would have to be re-established; and ways to promote social cohesion would need to be found so that "people can live together again as they did in the past."

At the same time, Cardinal Nichols said, "the people I've spoken to are determined and hopeful that given time, it can be achieved."

When asked whether he thinks Western governments should send troops to help liberate the city of Mosul, for example, Cardinal Nichols said, "it would be too provocative." However, he said more can be done to provide material aid to the displaced and those under the threat of the Islamic State militias.

Celebrating the liturgy with Chaldean Catholics April 12, the cardinal told them that despite their sadness, anger, and distress, they should "never stay away from the community of the church."

"Always stay within the embrace of the community," Cardinal Nichols said, "because there, together, you will find the love and support which so reflects the love of the Lord. There you are able to say 'my Lord and my God.'"

Afterward, Cardinal Nichols said he heard "horrific stories of immense suffering and great anger and frustration -- but also of huge generosity."

Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan, now hosts more than 120,000 Christians who were driven from their homes by Islamic State militants. The refugees first stayed in temporary shelters and trailers, but some have moved recently to rental housing, which Cardinal Nichols called "an enormous achievement."

The cardinal said he wants to "touch the generosity in people's hearts" and help create long-term projects that will support the vision of Archbishop Warda in his efforts to restore the communities of the persecuted Iraqi Christians.

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