On his second full day in Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan traveled three hours to Dohuk, the city where the majority of those who fled Mosul, including the members of the minority Yazidi population, escaped to when ISIS overran the city.
After the lengthy ride, Cardinal Dolan briefly visited a medical dispensary set up by CNEWA, where he greeted the staff and some refugees, most of whom come from Mosul.
He then traveled to the Inishke village in the upper region of Dohuk where he concelebrated Mass in the Chaldean rite in the presence of the local Christian community, a number of refugees, as well as representatives of the Yazidi and Muslim communities.
The principal celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Shlemom Wardoni, who is one of three auxiliary bishops serving under Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Members of other rites, including the Syriac-Catholic rite, were also present at the Mass, including a number of displaced priests.
Although Cardinal Dolan was not the main celebrant at Mass, he preached the homily, conveying the core message that he came to share with everyone: “We love you…You are not forgotten.”
He then wrapped up his day with a visit to the Dawodiya displacement camp near Dohuk, which consists of roughly 2,200 people. About 60 to 70 percent of the camp’s inhabitants are Yazidi, while the rest are mainly Christians.
Some Muslims are also present in the camp, as well as a few other small minority religions.
The Yazidi population is one of Iraq's smallest ethnic-religious minorities. Of Kurdish descent, their religion is considered to be a pre-Islamic sect branching from Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
Most of the small community lived in Iraq's Nineveh province prior to the Islamic State's invasion. Their religion is syncretistic, and some Muslims consider the Yazidis to be devil worshippers.
Roughly 125 miles from Erbil, Dohuk is where the majority of Iraq’s Yazidi population now resides, as well as thousands of others forced to leave their homes in Mosul and Sinjar when ISIS unleashed an offensive that took the Nineveh Plain in June 2014.
When ISIS stormed Sinjar shortly after, many of the Yazidi population seeking to escape the attacks fled to the surrounding mountains. Facing the possibility of death if they retreated down the mountain, they had been stranded for days without access to food or water. Some, including children, died of dehydration due to the desert’s high temperatures.
They were finally released from the nightmare when the U.S. President Barack Obama air dropped shipments of food and water onto the mountain, and authorized airstrikes allowing them to safely flee to surrounding cities.
Cardinal Dolan’s trip to the city falls on the second day of his visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is currently on a pastoral visit intended to offer support and solidarity to families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of the 2014 ISIS attacks.
In addition to his role as Archbishop of New York, the cardinal is also chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Traveling with him is CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan. CNA is also part of the delegation.