Despite the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic extremists, the Gospel continues to move, as the first Catholic University recently opened in Ankawa, a Christian town north of Erbil, Iraq, on land provided by the Chaldean Church.
According to Asia News, the University is open to anyone who wants to pursue higher education and training, including young refugees, and will provide of programs, including oriental studies, information technology, languages and economics. In addition, 96 courses will be available in Biblical and theological studies, and plans are in the works for a faculty of law and international relations, according to a statement made available to the Gospel Herald via email.
On the 8th of December, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bishop Bashar Warda, and Mgr Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI), took part in the official opening of the University and voiced their hopes for the future of the school.
"Our beloved Christian community has so many reasons to leave Iraq today. This is why this university is a strong motive to stay," said Bishop Warda. "We all have a great responsibility to give them reasons to stay. The university is a message to those who want us thrown out of the circle of history. It means we are staying because we are deeply rooted in this soil for thousands of years."
He added, "The University will be open to everyone, I hope that all the students - Christians, Muslims, Yazidis - will be able to breathe the Catholic faith and its fundamental values, we expect to receive up to 300 students each year".
Since the Islamic State terrorist group seized Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in 2014, over 100,000 people sought refuge in Erbil. At present, there are only around 300,000 Christians left in Iraq from over a million in 2002.
"Last year we had 13,500 registered Christian refugee families in our archdiocese. Now there are only about 10,000 left. This means that more than 3,000 families have left Iraq," Bishop Warda told Aid to the Church in Need in October.
Today, the humanitarian situation is stabilized, with most refugees living in caravans or flats instead of tents. Additionally, "there are practically no children who are not receiving lessons" as eight new schools have been built in the area, funded by ACN, Bishop Warda said.
"Many young people spoke of the darkness they had been forced to pass through. After all, when they fled, they not only lost their homes, but also their hopes, joy, trust and dreams," he said.
"However, when they saw that the Church was with them, that priests and nuns stood by them, they took courage once more. Their faith returned. They may no longer have a house, but at least they have a living faith."
Speaking to Asia News, Mgr Galantino expressed hope that Erbil's Catholic University will lay "the foundation of a new history and a promising future" for the local community which, after suffering for months at the hands of Islamic extremists, is preparing to celebrate its second Christmas in a newfound home.