Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Christmas celebrations filled with hope in Erbil

Liberated villagers in the Nineveh Plains gather Christian spirit
Father Luis Montes, who has lived in Iraq since 2010, stands beside a Nativity scene.  A majority of villages on the Nineveh plains have been liberated from the Islamic State, allowing them to celebrate their Christian traditions once again.
Refugees are overjoyed to hear their homes have been liberated from the Islamic State (IS), and celebrate Christmas together.
The refugees, many who live in Erbil, the capital city of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, have lost much during their lives. "Despite everything, Iraqis have lost neither their smiles nor their hope," said Father Luis Montes, episcopal vicar of the Latin bishop for Kurdistan. He has lived in Iraq since 2010, and spoke with the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the current situation in the refugees from the Nineveh plains.
"When we received the news that IS was retreating, a spontaneous celebration broke out in the refugee camps. The people went out into the streets to dance and sing, as though they did not have any other problems in their lives," Father Montes told ACN. More than 120,000 people fled their villages from the jihadist threat, and are eager to return to their homes after more than two years away.

"Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before the refugees can return to their homes. The region is riddled with bombs," said Father Montes. The area has been "riddled with land mines" and reports of "bombs in with children's toys" have caused further delay for the returning refugees.

Father Montes noted the mines required to be cleared up and villages restored. "Approximately 60% of the homes on the Nineveh plains were burned down," he said. "Everything still needs to be done, the people have nothing left."

Nonetheless, they are happy to hear the news of their liberated villages, and many Christian refugees living in Erbil celebrated the Christmas season in an even grander scale. The houses and streets were decorated with trees and lights, and chocolate and gifts donated from all around the world were passed around the refugee camps. "I find it quite impressive to look into the faces of the children when they see the presents," said Father Montes. "Not only because of the things in and of themselves, but because people who live very far away were thinking of them."

"They know that Christians from other countries have kept them alive."

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