On May 9th, I entered into the beautifully decorated church hall of All Saints Parish in Coquitlam, B.C., where a sold out benefit dinner gathering over 200 Iraqi-Canadians and Catholics from across Vancouver was about to take place. Since the fall, a dedicated group of local Iraqis along with the Knights of Columbus worked diligently to organize this event aimed at bringing awareness about the crisis in Iraq that has displaced 2.5 million Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities this past year, and raising funds for aid.
The $18,000 that was raised will contribute to Development and Peace’s humanitarian aid program in Iraq, and I was present as keynote speaker to share the stories of trauma that displaced Iraqis have experienced, and the relief that our program is bringing to those in Kurdistan and Baghdad. Most importantly, I was there to address that the need for help remains present, and that we expect will increase as ISIS militants continue in their attempts to gain control over Iraq. I was there to express that this moment of outreach and solidarity was not to take place in this evening alone, but needs to be a first of many.
Archbishop Michael Miller congratulated the Knights of Columbus for this first initiative of its kind in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. With an evening full of celebration and sharing of Iraqi culture, from the traditional meal, to the popular hymns and dances, to a visual tour of Iraq’s geography and history, we were given an intimate glimpse of the life that has been taken away from displaced Iraqis.
The evening proved that we, as Canadians, have much to learn about the level of suffering experienced by those who have been targeted and forced to flee their homes because of what they believe in. An Iraqi-Canadian expressed her thanks for Development and Peace’s presence in Iraq and efforts to educate Canadians on the crisis: “The Iraqi community knows, but Canadians need to know.”
Sahar Najeb, one of the Iraqi traditional dancers, and a former volunteer with Caritas Syria, also expressed her thanks, and left us moved by this statement: “You all made choices not to walk away when help was needed. You’re presence tonight brings back humanity.”
Often, the choices we make are too focused on our own lives, but guests were clear in their desire to show directly their compassion. Archbishop Miller described how the letter ن (nun) is marked by ISIS on Christian doors to target their persecution. He reminded us that “No one is writing nun on our doors” and urged us “not to fall into the trap of donor fatigue. How can we not help our brothers and sisters?”
As we returned to our homes, with windows closed to keep out the evening chill, and doors safely locked, with no markings to single us out for what we believe in, the choice before us is clear. We must choose never to walk away, to recognize our help is always needed, and to extend our solidarity as far as it can reach.