AUSTRALIANS played a significant role in the establishment of Iraq’s first Catholic university which was opened on Tuesday (December 8), the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who sought support from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Australian Catholic University for the institution, opened the Catholic University in Erbil (CUE) which has about 500 students enrolled in four faculties.
The ACBC gave financial support and ACU is supporting the Iraq university through training staff.
ACU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins said ACU had established a project to support the Iraq university after Archbishop Warda appealed for help at the International Federation of Catholic Universities 25th General Assembly in Melbourne in July.
“He spoke very movingly of the plight of the people in Erbil and also of the refugees from Mosul, and of the dilemma for young people who were unable to complete their studies (because of war and terrorism),” Prof Cummins said.
Archbishop Warda decided the best way to respond to the nation’s turmoil was through educating the young people.
He wanted to establish the university that would be for all people, not just Catholics, and he wanted it would be a place of peace.
“Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven said we’d do all we could,” Prof Cummins said.
Archbishop Warda told ACU he was not seeking financial support but help with training staff.
CUE’s president will spend three months at ACU and faculty staff will receive training in Australia as well.
“We will also offer five scholarships for senior academic staff (from CUE),” Prof Cummins said.
The first of those staff will start arriving in July and others will begin studies at ACU in 2017.
“The Vice-Chancellor would consider us to be on a long-term path of friendship with (the Iraq university) and he would see this as the start of a relationship that would keep on going,” Prof Cummins said.
When he was visiting Australia for the Catholic universities’ assembly, Archbishop Warda, from Erbil, in Kurdish Iraq, said establishing a university was “a way of fighting back against Daesh and saying we (Christians) are not going to go away”.
Archbishop Warda said in his proposal to ACU that the new university “will embrace our Christian and Yezidi young men and women who were forcefully displaced from their areas and homes in the Plain of Nineveh in Mosul”.
“The university will also open its doors wide for Muslims who would learn side by side with Christians and Yezedis with an aim to shape a new and promising future for Iraq and the region,” he said.
More than 135,000 Christians were forced to flee from the violence of Daesh last year.
Brisbane priest Fr Gerry Hefferan has been supporting Archbishop Warda’s efforts with education since visiting Erbil in 2009 and was invited to the university opening but unable to attend.
“(CUE) is a wonderful project bringing hope to those who are settled in northern Iraq and those who are refugees there,” Fr Hefferan said.
“I’m very grateful to the Holy Spirit Sisters and Catholic Religious Australia Queensland for their support for the original scholarships.”
Those scholarships were in support of studies at ACU for Daughters of Jesus’ Sacred Heart Sisters Samar Mikha and Azhar Koka, of Erbil.
By Peter Bugden