Although only a dozen Iraqi young people were able to attend World Youth Day in Sydney, more than six thousand young people took part in their own WYD celebrations in northern Iraq, attending catechetical sessions and sharing their faith experiences in an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm.
Together with young people from Lebanon, Australia and France, Iraqi young people celebrated WYD in the dioceses of Amadiyah and Arbil, where a procession and closing Mass were celebrated on July 18.
Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiya of the Chaldeans told L’Osservatore Romano that more than one thousand young people carried a cross in procession to the town of Araden, the location of the “monastery of the Sultan Mahdokh, the Iraqi martyr who lived there in the fourth century. From there you could see the entire Sapna Valley as the young people sang the WYD songs. Their spirits were not dampened by fatigue and you could see the emotion in their faces throughout the long day.”
At the end of the procession, the young people expressed their hope that “the next WYD would be celebrated ‘in the entire country’ and not just in the north, as in this case, ‘without any fear of violence’.”
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said five thousand young people came to his archdiocese. “We followed the same schedule as Sydney, but translated into Arabic. This was an historic event for us, perhaps even more significant than the WYD of Sydney, where it was easy for people to come together. Here we saw the determination of young people to bear witness to their faith amidst difficulties and sufferings,” he said.
Through their example, the Christian young people made Christ present to the other 97% of young people who are Muslim, the archbishop noted. He revealed that he was so happy with the event that he hopes to organize “an encounter between Christians and Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan in September, to pray together for peace and reconciliation.”