Three MPs joined a Catholic charity’s project trip to see the situation of refugees in Erbil, northern Iraq, who are being cared for by the Church.
The visit, organised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), included visits to camps for displaced families and meetings with high-ranking prelates and government officials. They also attended an ordination ceremony.
Jim Shannon MP for Strangford, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, said: “It was illuminating, it was heartening, it was humbling.
“For me, it was an opportunity to see in some places a very thriving Church, and in other places a very persecuted Church, to meet some of those who had to flee with only the shirt on their backs as Daesh (ISIS) descended upon them to do their worst.”
Also on the ACN project trip, which finished on Sunday, were Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, and Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde.
The trip included a visit to Ashty 2 Camp, Ankawa, Erbil, where 5,500 people are living in 1,088 housing units.
Talking about seeing the camps, Shannon added: “There were many things that impressed me, but one thing that impressed me greatly was when we went around the camps and I met some of the displaced people was this – they had lost so much, but they had on their walls a picture of the Lord Jesus with the words: ‘Jesus I will trust in thee’.
“For me though it was their faith that was sustaining them, so it was an important visit to make and one that I’ll never forget.”
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who is overseeing the Church’s aid efforts, said that the overall number of Christian families in the camps has fallen from 120,000 to 100,000. Many families have left the country.
Archbishop Warda told MPs that his top priorities were renting houses for the displaced, providing them with food, setting up more medical centres, and giving families pastoral and spiritual support.
He decried the lack of aid from the Iraqi government in Baghdad, saying they had provided no help, but thanked charities, including ACN which assisted with €10 million last year for a range of projects in Iraq.
MPs and ACN staff also attended ordinations held in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ankawa, which included that of 25-year-old Fr Martin Banni, who trained at St Peter’s Seminary, Erbil.
While many members of Fr Banni’s family have left Iraq for the US or Sweden, he decided to remain in Iraq to minister to those still there.
Head of the Chaldean Church Patriarch Raphael Sako said: “This ordination is a sign of hope – we hope that the refugees will be able to go home soon. Father Martin should be a model of Christ – of courage and sacrifice.”
The trip also included a meeting with Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdish Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations.