Priest returning to Iraq: ISIS threatens the whole world

Fr Ghazwan Yousif Baho speaks with CNA in Rome on Oct 4 2014 Credit Giuseppe Di Molfetta CNA CNA 10 8 14jpg Fr. Ghazwan Yousif Baho speaks with CNA in Rome on Oct. 4, 2014. | Giuseppe Di Molfetta/CNA.

An Iraqi priest who has chosen to return to his city, which lies just six miles from ISIS-controlled territory, said that in the midst of an increasingly desperate situation, the help of world powers is greatly needed.

"The only solution is to return the people to their homes. This is the only solution. How to do it, this depends on the great international powers, because the world needs to intervene," Fr. Ghazwan Yousif Baho told CNA Oct. 4.

ISIS "is a full threat not only for the Christians of Iraq or our brother Muslims, or this fundamentalist current, but it's a threat for the whole world. So the world needs to intervene in one way or another."

Fr. Baho is the parish priest in Alqosh, Iraq as well as a guest professor at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome, where he teaches two months out of the year. While in Rome, he also serves as pastor in the city's Sts. Joachim and Ann parish.

He was present in Rome to accompany an Iraqi couple, Mubarack and Agnese Hano, to an audience Pope Francis held with elderly and grandparents on Sept. 28. This weekend he will return to Alqosh, which sits only 10 kilometers – around six miles – from the ISIS-controlled city of Qaraqosh.

The militant Sunni Islamist organization was among the rebels fighting in the Syrian civil war. In June it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west, as well as in northern Syria.

It has now declared a caliphate, which is defined as an Islamic state controlled by a religious and political leader known as a caliph or "successor" to Muhammad.

In Syria on Aug. 13, ISIS seized a string of towns located northeast of Aleppo and near the Turkish border, including Akhtarin. On Aug. 11 it had seized the Iraqi town of Jalawla, located 90 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province.

All non-Sunni persons have been persecuted by the Islamic State – tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have fled the territory.

"I am not in favor of war, but right now war is a fact. If they continue conquering territory, someone must stop them…the great powers of the world need to intervene, not only the Americans and the British, but all," Fr. Baho insisted.

"They are a threat to humanity. They are creating hate toward humanity. This needs to stop. We as Christians need to stop them with love, but if they are killing people without reason, it's difficult."

Fr. Baho then referenced an Oct. 2-4 summit held at the Vatican with the nuncios to the seven nations of the Middle East, during which Pope Francis and Vatican officials spoke with them about possible responses to ISIS, as well as how to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons.

"All of the nuncios of that area also live this situation and know very well what is happening. I hope that they make the voice of the poor persecuted people heard, and of all those who don't have a voice in Iraq or in the other areas, like Syria."

Right now the situation of all those who have fled ISIS' violent attacks since their initial June 10 launch in Iraq "has become much, much more difficult than before," Fr. Baho observed.

Some having been out of their homes for nearly two months or more, many of the refugees are currently living in tents on the street in camps, and winter is approaching.

In addition to the loss of houses and work, children are now beginning to lose their schooling, he explained, because the year is starting and they have nowhere to go.

"Life in refugee camps for these people…one can stand it for one day, two days, 10 days.But after two months, what hope is there for them? It's true that some help arrives from Caritas, from the U.N., and from so many other organizations. But life in a tent is not a normal life."

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Fr. Baho pointed out how the situation is especially problematic for women, children and the elderly, so their primary concern now is not that they have lost everything, but simply to find a place to live.

"They have lost their work, their houses, their money that they have in the bank that right now they can't get. So in this situation the people are desperate."

"We don't want to leave our land," he said, but if this situation continues the way it is, "in one month people will begin to lose hope in a future in Iraq."

Although hopes rose with American and British military intervention, "we have learned in these two months that if we don't see with our own eyes, and we don't return to our own cities, there is little hope," the priest observed.

Further intervention, he said needs to happen on several different levels, the first being to help thousands of refugees who are living "in difficulty."

"There are thousands. In Iraq maybe more than a million refugees. Christians are more than 100,000. But also our brother Muslims who are not in favor of this current of ISIS, also they find themselves as refugees in Iraq. So the first intervention is to help these ones…everyone, not only some organizations."

A second intervention would be to stop the advancement of ISIS, "but not only block them, drive them out," the priest explained.

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We also need to create "a way of changing this mentality of hatred toward humanity, to create a mentality of love," he said, noting how this is the mission that every Christian throughout the world is called to.

"They create hate. We need to create love. This is our war as Christians; not war with weapons but war of creating a society of love, a culture of love, a culture of accepting the other even if he is different."

"This is very important for us," he said, however "blocking their advancement depends on world powers."

[Editor's note: This article is the second in a series of two interviews with Fr. Ghazwan Yousif Baho. The first story can be found here.]

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