Like so many, I was thrilled by the presence of over 200 Iraqi young people at the World Youth Day celebrations in Krakow, Poland. Accompanying the young people from Iraq, included Bishops, Priests and Sisters, representing a broad layer of the Iraqi Christian community, from Churches in Baghdad through to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Their presence at the World Youth Day didn’t go unnoticed, by the estimated one and half million present in Krakow, where among the various celebrations, the voices of Iraqi young people and clergy were heard across conference halls, celebrated on the Polish streets and even captured onto Social Media.
The Polish people welcomed the Iraqi community with open arms, whilst the media and commentators applauded Iraq’s young people and clergy for their courage. Moments of celebration were also caught on film, where Iraq’s young Christians mobilised a few thousand people from various countries, into a chorus of traditional Arabic dancing, to the accompaniment of an Iraqi band.
The Iraqi youth gave a clear message to the world, including the importance of religious freedom. The Catholic media celebrated how these young people, who have suffered greatly in Iraq, also had the chance to witness first-hand, the words of Pope Francis.
A young Iraqi refugee, whose family were forced to flee and are now resident in America, recalled her own experiences and those of her friends to an audience of thousands, where she received a standing ovation. Iraq’s Archbishop Warda reminded people of the ongoing suffering inside of Iraq and appealed on behalf of those displaced.
During the World Youth Day events in Poland, I received an e-mail from Neville Kirke-Smith, who is the National Director of the UK based charity Aid to the Church in Need. In his message, Neville reminded me how ACN were working with Archbishop Warda and the Iraqi young people at WYD, to provide assistance to over 60.000 displaced families in Iraq.
The message from Neville also included how ACN were providing essentials like food and shelter, and shared a message from Archbishop Warda himself, that “with the continued failure of any meaningful government assistance, help is essentially all that stands between us and the end of any aid for displaced families.”
While people around the world, might feel powerless to the situation inside of Iraq, World Youth Day has provided a renewed perspective, from the enthusiasm and concerns of young people from across the globe. As the next WYD is planned for Panama in 2019, the legacy 2016 has given to us, is together we can be a force for good and through our own generosity, have the ability to love thy neighbour.