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A Christian Sanctuary in Devastated Iraq


mar elias
News from the Middle East has always been grim. Less is the hope of getting to hear something that sounds good or is not about the death of a couple of individuals at the hands of Islamic Extremism.

As they say relief always comes from the most unexpected places, there is a church in Irbil that houses Christian refugees from northern Iraq who barely escaped the Islamic State invasion in August.

Upon entering the Mar Elias church yard one can hear shrieks of children’s laughter, young boys and girls playing volleyball in a paved courtyard. People who fled homes have been forced to take refuge in unfinished buildings and cheap apartments and in church buildings.

Sunni Muslims of Kurdistan welcomed the refugees and helped in settling down but could not keep up because of the ever increasing influx of Christian migrants from Syria and neighboring countries.

At Mar Elias, there are 110 families, 564 people in all, jammed into its large grounds in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Irbil. They are a confused angry crowd with hundreds of traumatized children. “We had to use the church garden and an unfinished mall,” recalled Father Douglas Bazi, an ebullient Iraqi cleric

Father Douglas forbade families from sending their children to work. He insisted that girls and boys learn and play sports together, another repudiation of Islamic State ideology – and something uncommon even among Iraqi Christians. He created a camp library in two trailers with donated books and computers and a huge chessboard, putting students in charge.

Relief agencies have helped people get into brightly colored trailers in the church garden and Mar Elias is indeed an oasis unlike many other areas in Iraq.