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Iraqi Children Displaced by ISIS 'Struggling to Forgive,' Says Priest

( [email protected] ) Jan 06, 2015 02:39 PM EST

Iraqi Refugees Displaced by ISIS
A Iraqi Christian, who fled from his home because of Islamic State's advance earlier this year, walks beneath a cross erected inside the entrance hall of the unfinished Ankawa Shopping Mall which is now home to hundreds of displaced people in Erbil, Iraq, Dec. 8, 2014. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Iraqi Christian leaders are struggling to teach children the Biblical message of forgiveness as thousands of families living in the region remain homeless after Islamic State militants ordered them to convert, flee, or die.

"It's hard to explain what is happening," Father Daniel Alkhory told Fox News in the predominantly Christian district of Ankawa inside the Kurdish capital of Erbil. "I was teaching them the parable of Ishmael and Lazarus, talking to them about Heaven and Hell, so I used that to bring up ISIS. I asked them where ISIS will go and they said, 'Directly to Hell!'"

The Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot, has gained control of large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to establish a caliphate, or state ruled by Islamic law. Since last June, its militants have killed hundreds of Christians and displaced thousands of others in an attempt to "cleanse" the region of religions other than Islam. 

Survivors, helped by Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces, have told how many of their women and young girls were stolen by ISIS militants, many sold into sex slavery. Now living in refugee camps across Iraq, Turkey, and northeastern Syria, survivors have expressed shock at witnessing their formerly peaceful Muslim neighbors joining the terrorist group in attacking them.

Alkhory told Fox News the story of a Christian living in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city which was once home to thousands of believers. The Christian man had been living next to a Muslim man for more than 20 years when the Muslim man one day suddenly threatened him, ordering him to leave Mosul within 24 hours simply because he was Christian.

"So the Christian man started to pack his things, but before leaving he said he won't leave without saying goodbye to that neighbor," Alkhory recounted. "His neighbor opened the door and was really angry and shouting at him, 'Why are you here? I told you to leave Mosul!' The Christian man said he wouldn't leave without first saying goodbye. His Muslim neighbor then started to cry and promised to protect him."

The thousands of displaced families strewn across the Kurdish region are forced to re-start their lives in unfamiliar territory, as chances of returning home grow increasingly slim. The transition is particularly difficult for children, says Alkhory.

"The children are very traumatized. They've lost their hopes and dreams and we try to help them understand that life keeps going," Alkhory said. "But a child is like a flower, we can shape them. We have to take care of them now; otherwise the next generation of ISIS could come from these children."

The priest added that he will continue to encourage Iraqi children to forgive the militants who have turned their lives upside-down, as Christ forgave those who persecuted Him.

"Through all their sadness and depression, they wanted revenge. I knew I needed to build a new environment for them," he said, "I just keep telling the kids you have to forgive. Forgiveness will lead us to so many paths."