Father Douglas Bazi has suffered for his Christian faith in ways most Americans can’t fathom. A native of Iraq, the Chaldean Catholic priest has been shot at, kidnapped and tortured.
“One day, I believe they will kill me,” Father Bazi says.
Now, he’s working alongside the Knights of Columbus to raise awareness about the plight of Christians in his homeland.
During the month of September, the Knights sponsored a 60-second commercial to call attention to the ongoing struggle of Iraq’s Christians, driven from their ancestral homes by ISIS during the summer of 2014. About 100,000 have been living in refugee camps ever since.
Father Bazi is helping to lead the exiled Christian community and was featured in the commercial, asking viewers to “save my people.”
And while most people refer to the displaced Christians as refugees living in camps, Father Bazi prefers not to think in those terms. In the appeal, he refers to centers.
“I call it a center because camp is a negative word,” Father Bazi told The Tidings. “And I never call them refugees. I call them relatives.”
The Mar Elia center where Father Bazi lives is currently hosting 110 families. The families were living in tents for many months but are now in steel caravans, or small manufactured structures. The caravans offer a bit more protection, but each family is squeezed into a space that measures 10 feet by 20 feet.
“If they are seven or five or two people, it’s just for one family. Of course there are no restrooms. We use the public one that is beside the center,” Father Bazi said.
When asked what message he would like the world to know about the crisis facing his people, Father Bazi boils it down to three words: pray, help and save.
“First, I ask for prayers for us, because with faith, we can survive. It makes us so that we cannot give up suddenly,” Father Bazi said. “When our heart has faith, we can help and deal with this situation.”
In the midst of so much difficulty, he is forging ahead, baptizing babies, celebrating Mass, training catechists and directing a school for 388 students. After school hours, he returns to Mar Elia Church until 8 or 9 p.m.
Still, more than a year has passed since the Christians were pushed from their homes and many wonder what the future holds for them. They long to be reunited with loved ones, many of whom have scattered around the globe over the last decade. The younger women say they would be afraid to ever return to their homes, worried that they too could be captured by ISIS and sold as sex slaves.
“People here, they are dying by sorrow. That’s why I say, please save us,” Father Bazi said. “Among my people, no one blames God for what happened. They blame man.”
The Knights of Columbus was one of the first organizations to commit to helping the Christians of Iraq when the ISIS onslaught began. The new effort, launched Sept. 3, financed the delivery of one month’s supply of food to more than 13,500 displaced families from Mosul and Nineveh who fled to the Erbil area in Kurdistan.
The food assistance is part of the Knights’ multi-million dollar initiative to help the persecuted Christian and other religious minorities of the Middle East. The latest effort will bring the Knights of Columbus’ assistance in the Middle East to more than $4 million overall, with $2 million having been raised since the end of July, according to the Knights.
Each one-month food package typically contains staples such as tins of fish and meat, as well as rice, sugar, cooking oil, tomato sauce, beans, cheese, wheat and pasta. The $60 per package cost includes transportation and packaging, for a total cost of $810,000.
Mark Arabo, a San Diego businessman, is an advocate on behalf of the Christians of Iraq. Active in the Chaldean Catholic community, he’s traveled the country and has spoken at more than 100 churches and organizations, trying to get people to recognize the dire situation of Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community.
“It’s a genocide. People are being targeted and killed just because they’re Christians. It’s heartbreaking,” Arabo said.
He’s also visited Congress and the White House, but admits it hasn’t done much good.
“You would think that if you go to Congress or White House or the president and said there is a genocide happening in real time and these are the victims who are being killed … you would think we would do what we did in Bosnia, but we’re not. The government is failing. We can’t put humanity in the hands of our government,” Arabo said. The support of the Knights of Columbus for the region’s Christians, Arabo said, is “amazing” and deeply appreciated.
“God bless them and give them the clarity and the strength to carry the mission forward,” Arabo said. “We need as much awareness of the plight of Christians in the Middle East as possible. Christianity is on life support in the Middle East — it’s under attack and the frontlines are here in America.”