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Brisbane parish launches prayer campaign for peace in Iraq

Peace Prayer Vigil

Vigil group: Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan (back third from right) and parish pastoral council member David Walker (back fourth from right) with members of Brisbane’s Catholic Iraqi community who attended the parish’s prayer vigil for peace in Iraq and other troubled parts of the world.
Photo: Clare Denkes

BRISBANE Catholic families, “scared and terrified” for their relatives in Iraq, have taken heart from a prayer campaign launched last weekend (August 3).

“It’s nice to know people are thinking of us,” Dina Nona said at the St Joseph and St Anthony Church, Bracken Ridge, in Brisbane, after an ecumenical prayer vigil for peace in Iraq and other troubled spots in the world last Sunday.

A prayer campaign was launched at the vigil.

Miss Nona is a Chaldean Catholic hailing from Iraq, and she and members of her extended family living in Brisbane were at the vigil, along with a family of Syriac Catholics from Iraq who are Bracken Ridge parishioners.

She is a niece of Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul who was forced out of the northern Iraq city in recent weeks along with thousands of Christians when Islamic State (or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS) militants raided.

The jihadist terrorists took over the city, seizing the property of Christians, and removing crosses from places of worship and burning and destroying many churches.

A few weeks ago, for the first time in 1600 years, Sunday Mass was not celebrated anywhere in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Catholic News Service reported that Shiite mosques also were demolished and all Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in the city were destroyed.

Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan said the vigil “was solidarity in carrying the cross, with its suffering, together in love and the Hope that Jesus gives”.

“It is very hard for the West to understand what it must be like to be a Church of martyrs, a Church of Calvary, where the prayer is so deep that, like the Garden of Gethsemane, we can actually cry like Jesus with heavy sorrows,” he said in his homily.

“And yet it is with hope that we come today, hope to celebrate – also to grieve – but to hope in Jesus Christ because Friday of Holy Week is Good Friday.

“Jesus prayed, suffered and died to bring us life.”

Miss Nona said she and her family, who live in Brisbane, were anxious for their relatives in Iraq.

“We’re following the news every day and every night,” she said.

Her father Rany, brother of Archbishop Nona, was also at the vigil with his wife and family.

Apart from his archbishop brother, Mr Nona said his mother and sister were living in Iraq, in Alqosh, about 30km from Mosul.

“We’re scared and terrified for them,” Miss Nona said.

“My aunty (her mother’s sister) said they’ve got a bag packed, ready to leave.”

Mr Nona’s cousin Asaad Jarjees, who also lives in Brisbane and was at the vigil with his family, said it was a day-to-day existence with the threat of Islamic State terrorists always looming.

“Every night they expect them (the Islamic State militants) to come,” Mr Jarjees said.

“We’re praying that nothing will happen … Sooner or later they’re going to demolish everything.”

The Nonas and Mr Jarjees agreed the prayer vigil and other signs of support were “very important”.

“We see that people are thinking of us, which is great,” Miss Nona said.

Mr Jarjees said they “wish that every church will talk about this”.

He said they were the native people of Iraq and they were being forced out “easy as, and no one is talking about it”.

About 130 people attended the vigil, which was instigated by the parish pastoral council and involved young people of the community in much of the organisation and participation.

Parish council member Wendy Chinnery, in the introduction at the vigil, said the council was prompted to act following the announcement by Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in early July that, “For the first time in 1600 years, there was no Mass in Mosul last Sunday”.

The council was moved by reports of the Islamic State’s relentless persecution of Christians and other minorities in Mosul and other parts of north and west Iraq.

“Bishop Daoud Nikdomios, a Syriac Orthodox Bishop from Mosul, describes the chilling ultimatum given to Christians towards the end of July: ‘convert to Islam; pay an impossible tax, or ‘face the sword’’,” Ms Chinnery said.

“Adding to the pain of those who flee, is the loss of their possessions, the removal of crosses from churches and the sheer destruction of sites that many hold sacred.

“We remember also those who were unable to leave, due to ill health or disability.

“The Church of Iraq, and the whole Church of the Middle East, has been described in recent days as a ‘church of Calvary’.

“Today, we ‘weep with those who weep’.”

The parish is encouraging others in Brisbane archdiocese and beyond to join its Pray@8 prayer campaign for the people of Iraq and other troubled areas.

The aim is for people to stop at 8pm each night in their own homes to be united in prayer.

Explaining the campaign at the vigil, Val Smith, a member of the parish’s women’s prayer group, said “8pm Brisbane time is about 1pm, lunchtime and a time for prayer in Iraq … and so it’s a perfect time to be united with our brothers and sisters”.

“Fr Gerry has already informed Archbishop Warda in Northern Iraq of our intention to pray together at 8,” she said.

“So today we invite each of you and your friends and families to join us at 8pm each night as we pause to pray for peace.”

Fr Hefferan said it was important “that the prayer continues with Pray@8 with as many people as possible praying”.

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