Director Jordan Allott, middle, was the guest of honour at collaboration event with chaplaincy leaders of Ryerson University, Newman Centre and St. Michaels’ College. Photo courtesy of Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy

Toronto chaplaincies gather to learn about Middle East persecution

By  Vanessa Chan, Youth Speak News
  • March 17, 2017

Amid a backdrop of the historical Christian village of Alqosh in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq, Athra Kado passionately talked about protecting his Assyrian people as a soldier of the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit.

He said if not for him and fellow soldiers, there would be no one to protect the dwindling number of Christians left in Iraq.

This and many other moving scenes abound in Our Last Stand: One Woman’s Journey to Reveal the Plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

The documentary follows the story of Helma Adde, an Assyrian-American teacher who travelled to war-torn Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2015 to raise awareness of the dangers affecting her people in their homeland.

Students and community members gathered at University of Toronto’s Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy March 6 to view the documentary and participate in a discussion about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“In the same way that a mission trip takes you out of your current context and gives you an idea of the kind of poverty that people experience, having a screening of somebody who travelled to show the plight of Iraqis and Syrians is something that can help students to appreciate what they have,” said Erin Kinsella, associate director of campus outreach at the Newman Centre.

Participants were engaged during the question-and-answer period, eager to learn about what life was like in Iraq and Syria from a person who had been there.

Director Jordan Allott was invited to speak at the screening. He summarized how to respond to this situation with three words: unity, awareness and advocacy.

“One great example is at Mass, maybe asking the priest to raise an intention (for the Christians in the Middle East) or speaking yourself during the prayers of the faithful,” said Allott.

“It does two things: it’s spiritual solidarity, but it also raises awareness because there’s going to be a group of people at the church who think to themselves about it, and maybe they’ll go home and do research on it.”

The event was a collaboration between the Newman Centre, the University of St. Michael’s College and Ryerson University Catholic Chaplaincy.

This tri-chaplaincy initiative was begun after St. Michael’s College decided to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Angelo Minardi, SMC campus director, wanted to educate the community on how to best welcome and accommodate the family it will sponsor.

“For our students, it’s continued education on what is happening to Christians in Syria and Iraq, that they’re such a small minority, easily identifiable and that there are incredible hardships and a lot of violence that’s taking place with Christians there,” Minardi said.

“Students can tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to studies and focus on the next day, in the context of Toronto and maybe the GTA,” said Nathan Gibbard, director of Ryerson Catholic Campus Ministry. “This is an opportunity for them to at least be exposed to a different world, a different way of thinking, a different context.”

Representatives from the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Canadian Near East Welfare Association were also present, inviting people to support their work by either donating money or volunteering their time.

Asked about his experience with the people he encountered in making the film, Allott expressed that many, like the soldier Athra Kado, wanted to stay in their homes and resist the aggressors who wanted to force them out.

“Our number one priority should be to help them stay not only in their ancestral homeland, but in an area of the world they can do a lot of good,” Allott said. “Help them where they are and spread the word about them.”

(Chan, 24, is a second-year PhD student in psychology at University of Toronto.)

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