AN Iraqi priest, shot and imprisoned by ISIS has praised and thanked Australians and the Catholic Church for helping in the face of the Christian genocide in his country.
In Brisbane to address a Christian conference and to meet Iraqi refugees, Fr Douglas Bazi, of the Chaldean Catholic Church, also said there was a risk that Christians in northern Iraq were in danger of “disappearing forever” unless immediate international action was taken.
“Thank God there is the Catholic Church,” Fr Bazi said as he visited the home of Iraqis Kareem and Bushra Patros, members of the St Joseph and St Anthony parish, Bracken Ridge, in Brisbane’s north.
The Patros family has helped co-ordinate the arrival and settlement of scores of Iraqi families into the local community.
“It is easy to rebuild cities, but I think it an impossible mission to rebuild the trust between people. Can we again live with the Muslims?” Fr Bazi said.
“The Catholic Church understands the meaning of help. It means support, praying, dollars, sending doctors and social workers – everything.
“So thanks to Australia. Thanks to the Catholic Church – they provide home to my people.”
Fr Bazi is visiting Australia to raise awareness about the ongoing plight of minorities, including Christians and Yezidis, in northern Iraq.
He is the “face” of the ongoing struggle.
Extremists bombed Fr Bazi’s church and twice he survived gunfire attacks on his parish community.
He made international headlines after he was kidnapped by armed men one Sunday after Mass, taken and tortured for nine days, while being repeatedly questioned about being a spy.
However, while visiting Australia he would rather talk about the urgent, ongoing aid needed in northern Iraq.
“With more pressure we can help the people still suffering,” he said.
“Just to open your gates to our people that is a good thing.”
Fr Bazi estimated the number of Christians in Iraq – mainly in Mosul and the Plain of Nineveh, once a valley full of Christian villages – had dwindled to about 180,000.
Before hostilities began in 2003, Christians numbered about 1.6 million.
“In northern Iraq, it is the last stand of my people,” Fr Bazi said.
“We are in danger. Our people are going to disappear if we are not going to take action.
“I am proud to be Iraqi, but my people are praying they find a country to call their home … because we don’t have any home anymore.”
Fr Bazi said the Catholic Church had shown generosity towards refugees fleeing Iraq’s war-zone and arriving in the Kurdish-controlled city of Erbil.
There is a newly-opened Catholic university, eight schools, two clinics and a hospital.
However, he said the United Nations had failed to recognise the plight of Iraq’s fleeing Christians, because they were considered internally displaced persons, until they crossed an international border.
“Already my people have no rights there,” Fr Bazi said.
“If you want to help us stay there – help us to get out. This is the reality.
“I’m not pushing people to stay, but I am saying that whether people decided to stay or leave, we have to support them.”
Fr Bazi asked for donor support for Project 52, launched by the Chaldean Catholic community.
The aim is to provide safe haven for disabled children born in war-torn Iraq, and now in Erbil.
Some children have been adopted and brought to New Zealand.
Fr Bazi also heads a centre for war survivors suffering ongoing trauma.
He was a keynote speaker at Spirit in the City 2017 – a conference on faith, culture and public affairs held at the Queensland University of Technology on October 7.
He also visited St Laurence’s College and spoke to about 200 senior students about events in Iraq.