.- Catholics in Iraq are maintaining a strong faith despite persecution in their country, Iraqi bishops and seminarians explained to a group of young pilgrims at World Youth Day.
“All young Catholics are brothers in Jesus Christ, and Iraqis need all (of them) to pray for the entire country, both Christians and Muslims, because Iraq is very important to Christianity,” said Samir Haddo Atallah, a seminarian from Mosul, Iraq.
Atallah spoke with CNA in an exclusive interview on Aug. 16. He is part of a group of 18 Iraqi seminarians from Mosul that traveled to World Youth Day, along with city’s Syrian-Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petrus Mouche, and the former Bishop Georges Casmoussa. The group met with Spanish and Mexican youth at the parish of San Agustin in Madrid.
The seminarians and bishops explained that life is hard for Christians in countries like Iraq, where they are often persecuted and are targets of violence.
“Priests and bishops are killed, it is very dangerous for us,” Father Salah Slaicua Rafo Sheto, who was recently ordained a priest, said. This is why they need “a new spirit to be an ecclesial church. We need to be people who are conscious about life, not about death.”
Bishop Casmoussa delivered a message from Christians in Iraq to the audience, asking for prayers and solidarity.
“Do not be afraid for us. We will carry the cross from beginning to end,” he said to the crowd consisting of members from different Spanish parishes and a group from Mexico.
Speaking to CNA, Bishop Casmoussa said that Christians in Iraq are not “against anyone,” and want to “work with Muslims to rebuild (the) country.”
Archbishop Mouche addressed those gathered by saying that the best way to transmit the faith is through the youth, particularly by attending Sunday Mass and having religious education available. He noted the importance of Catholic radio in Iraq, which is a new initiative funded with help from the San Agustin parish.
The seminarians and the pilgrims chanted, sang songs, and expressed their support for one another. When the exchange ended, an "Our Father" was prayed in Spanish and in Syrian, particularly for the peace and strength of Iraq and all its people.
“(This) is my vocation from Jesus, my Lord, to serve the people. We believe in love, and Jesus Christ is love,” said newly ordained Fr. Sheto, with a smile that reflected his firm conviction and joy.