Six hundred Christian children whose families fled ISIS violence in 2014 have lost their homes, schools, sometimes friends, sanitary living conditions and the stability of a normal life.
However, despite their many losses, there's one thing they never left behind and which continues to grow stronger everyday: their faith.
When it comes to the question of how to persevere in the faith — and pass it on with terrorists just a few miles away — one woman named Carin has developed a unique form of catechesis that she is teaching to displaced Christian children in Iraq.
“I think that children have the capacity to worship Jesus, to contemplate,” Carin told CNA in an April 7 interview in Erbil.
Her classes aren’t intended to just teach the kids how to pray, but rather to provide them the opportunity “to meet with Jesus, to give and receive his love” on a personal level, she said.
A French native, Carin is a volunteer at a prefabricated school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in the Iraqi city of Erbil, which provides education to 600 displaced Christian children and is sustained by funding from charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
Most of the children attending the school are from either Mosul or Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, and are among the 120,000 families who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS attacked in August 2014.
The majority of those who fled, the sisters included, came to Erbil and are now living in what they refer to as “containers” inside refugee camps the city’s Christian suburb, Ankawa.
Due to the difference in the educational system between most schools in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the materials are largely taught in Kurdish language, and the schools in Mosul and the Nineveh plain villages, where Arabic is the primary language, the majority of displaced students were unable to attend school last year.
However, with the building of the new school, which teaches classes in Arabic, the children are able to continue their education and, with the help of Carin, can continue learning and growing in their faith thanks to the lessons in catechesis they receive at the school.
Complete with readings from the Gospel, Eucharistic Adoration, prayers to the Holy Spirit and concrete advice for living the Gospel inside the camps where they live, the catechesis they receive is taught to all grades once a week inside the school’s makeshift chapel.
Each lesson is 40 minutes long and begins outside, so that the children can “prepare their heart,” Carin said, explaining that “it’s better (for the children) to prepare their heart outside” before entering the chapel.
After coming inside, the children have time for a brief “prayer of the heart” before asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be present during their prayer.
The Blessed Sacrament is then taken out of the small tabernacle in the chapel and set on top of then sit in silence in front of the for about 10-15 minutes, so they can “experience silence (and) meet Jesus in the silence,” Carin said.
Afterward, a passage from the Gospel is read, since that is where Jesus speaks to us “directly,” she said, explaining that when the reading is done, they discuss “how we can live the Gospel in daily life, because to be Christian is not only in the chapel, we have to continue in the camp.”
The class ends with prayers of intercession asking “for the world as we want (it to be),” and with a prayer to Mary.
Homework consists only of practicing at home what they learn in class, Carin said, explaining that when the children go back to the camps “they have to continue to put the Gospel into practice. This, and only this.”
Carin, who has eight years of experience as a missionary, developed the curriculum for the catechism class herself. It follows the liturgical calendar, and includes special activities during Christmas and Easter.
After visiting the school on her own for a two week visit in September, Carin proposed her plan of catechesis to the Dominican sisters running it.
The sisters approved, and invited Carin to return for a longer, six month period. After receiving help from the international missionary-training organization FIDESCO, Carin arrived to Erbil in January, and will move on in June when the school year is over.
She currently lives in a camp inside one of the “containers” provided for her by the Dominican sisters, and has no income. “It’s providence that takes care of me,” she said.
Carin said that while she had worked for humanitarian organization for seven years, the motivation for her missionary work comes from a personal conversion she had at the age of 25.
“I was living for 25 years without God. I started my life without God,” she said.
After she converted to Christianity she felt strongly that she wanted to give her heart to her Father in heaven, “and for this I am a missionary. I gave up my life because (now I) give my life for God.”
In addition to helping the Dominican Sisters at the school, Carin also assists another order of religious sisters, the Little Sisters of Jesus, with their ministry inside a camp they run.
Every day the Blessed Sacrament is brought to camp so that everyone, adults and children, will have the opportunity to pray.
The idea is not only to provide direct access to Jesus in the Sacrament, but also “to give hope, because the people here are very tired.”
“It’s been a long time now and now they need hope,” Cardin said, adding that “when we cannot do anything on a human level, it’s better to put Jesus, and then after Jesus, work. It’s like this.”