A delegation of bishops and priests from France are visiting Iraq April 17-21 to aid young Christian students living in the refugee camps.
The visiting bishops are the Archbishop of Marseilles, Georges Paul Pontier and the Bishop of Pontoise, Stanislas Lalanne. Also accompanying them are Father Pascal Gollnisch, director general of l’Oeuvre d’Orient, a French aid society for Christians in the Middle East; and Father Olivier Ribadeau-Dumas, secretary general and spokesman for the French Conference of Catholic Bishops.
These young students are part of the group of 120,000 Christians that fled from the cities of the Nineveh Plain when the Islamic State attacked the region in 2014.
When the students came to Erbil they had trouble continuing their studies because the curriculum is in the Kurdish language, and they speak Arabic. Around 400 of them will now be able attend university in the city of Kirkuk, where an educational program has been set up in their language.
The trip was the initiative of Archbishop Pontier and the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Yousif Thomas Mirkis, and is part of the “Support the Students in Iraq” project which was began last year and seeks to raise approximately $1.7 million to help young Iraqis continue their studies. The project is sponsored by the French bishops' conference and l'Oeuvre d'Orient.
When they arrived in Iraq, the bishops went to Kirkuk where they celebrated a Mass and met with the students and visited the homes where they live.
Regarding the situation of these young Christians, Archbishop Mirkis stated that they are “the priority and future of Iraq.”
“Helping these future leaders pursue their studies is essential for rebuilding our country. By supporting these young people we're keeping them in the country. So then there will be doctors, pharmacists, architects, and engineers,” Archbishop Mirkis stated on l'Oeuvre d'Orient's website.