Among the tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees and displaced people sheltered in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, forty babies were baptized Tuesday, on the Christian feast of Epiphany.
“Today,” said Emil Shimoun Nona, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, “we celebrate the Epiphany and we Christians of Ankawa gather to attend the baptism of 40 babies, many of whom were born here from refugee families. It is an occasion to celebrate and look with great hope to the future.”
The feast of Epiphany commemorates the day the three kings or “wise men” from the East came to worship the newborn child Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
“We will pray that the light of Jesus can give us hope to continue to live our faith with courage and without fear,” Nona said, “and that it will bring to the heart of those who govern the desire for peace. We do not need hatred but peace.”
Housed in tents, crammed into makeshift dwellings or even on the streets, the Erbil refugees have escaped the fury of the militias of the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Today there are some 120,000 Christian refugees in Kurdistan, according to estimates.
The young archbishop himself has taken refuge in Erbil together with the Iraqi people fleeing the violence of the Islamic state.
The archbishop’s diocese of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, has been under the complete control of the Islamic State for five months. Today, no more Christians live in Mosul. Their testimonies speak of churches closed, demolished, turned into prisons or occupied by Islamic militants.
“The Christmas season is almost finished and has brought comfort to our Christians gathered largely in Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil,” Nona said. “We could not do much, but the Masses in the tents-chapels were very well attended.”
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