More than 1,800 young Iraqi Christians from more than 60 parishes across seven archdioceses took part in a huge festival to celebrate their faith.
The Ankawa Youth Meeting (AYM), (29th June – 1st July) brought together leaders and young people from the Chaldean Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in Iraq.
Supported by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the gathering in Ankawa provided hope for the future of the Church and Iraq by encouraging new generations to stay and engage with their community.
Ankawa is a suburb of Erbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region, which became a safe haven for more than 125,000 Christians who suffered persecution by Daesh (ISIS) after the extremists seized the Nineveh Plains in 2014.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told ACN: “Christians in Iraq have been facing many challenges since Daesh (ISIS) and before.
“They look to the Church to guide them and help build their future through pastoral work and [the construction of places of worship and other important buildings].
“We now have six churches, a seminary, some catechist centres, four schools, a university, and a hospital.”
He added: “The young are our future. Our mission is to give them hope and purpose in their lives in their homeland, nourishing their faith and providing them with skills that help them overcome the challenges they face.”
“What we aspire to is a generation of conscious youth who will become part of the presence of the Church in Iraq.
“The AYM is a big part of realising this hope. It builds faith, friendships, removes isolation and impacts their lives and their families.”
The festival included Eucharistic celebrations, confession, seminars, debates, catechesis and other forms of Christian education.
Yara Khorany, one of the young people attending the meeting, told ACN she saw the gathering as an opportunity to form future leaders.
She said: “The idea behind these kinds of events is to show that we are here, we are a living Church and we do not want to leave. Part of the mission is discovering new leaders.”
Many of those present had been directly affected by the Daesh invasion, but Ms Khorany said that this has not weakened their faith, rather “there has been this strong desire to stay and support the Church, so that Christianity will not vanish from the region”.
She added: “There have been economic, social and other effects, but we are holding onto the faith. We are trying to really apply Christian values in our lives.
“We want to promote peace. We want to promote a culture of coexistence with all the other religions in the country.”