On Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, a priest calls his flock to be courageous and stand up for their faith

FATHER DURAID Barber is a priest of the Syriac-Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan. Born and raised in Qaraqosh, a Christian town on the Nineveh Plains, he spent three years in exile in Kurdistan after ISIS swept through the region. He returned to Qaraqosh in June 2017, the first priest to do so. He serves at St. Jacob’s Church and is on the staff of St. Paul’s House of Church Services. He recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:

Aid to the Church in Need serves the persecuted and suffering Church around the world, including in the Middle East, where jihadists persecute Christians
Father Barber

What motivates you in your pastoral work?
My love of service, and the wide range of human needs—spiritual, psychological, educational and social. Priests play an important role in the development of the human person; we give people a sense that they belong to a community that is united in one faith.

 What gives you the courage to stay on the Nineveh Plains?
Hope and courage are linked to a principle I adhere to: I believe that people must serve wherever they are and abide by the example of Christ, who died in the service of others. Christ did not flee. Faced with persecution and death, he remained steadfast, proclaiming the truth.

What role does the Church play in the daily lives of Christians who have returned to the Nineveh Plain?
The Church today has a role to play in addition to providing pastoral and spiritual care, in addition to administering the sacraments and the Christian formation of the faithful. When governments and institutions fail to act, the Church intervenes: we serve our community in the absence of jobs and basic social services. We play a broad role in the life of our people; we offer all that we can so that Iraq’s Christians can stay in their native land and freely proclaim their faith—ultimately, so that they can proclaim the Kingdom of God and his Word, so that peace may spread throughout the world.

How do you assess the situation in Qaraqosh today?
There is good and bad, but I focus on the good: this is our ancestral land, and it is beautiful. We all share a history. There is a rich Christian cultural presence in the region and it is crucial that it be maintained, surrounded as we are by different nations and faiths. Christians must stay in the region. It is their duty to spread and protect the light, so that it can shine in the darkness. Just as salt adds value and flavor to food, so the light of our faith enriches the culture at large. Our people have the full support of the Church. We prioritize peace and respect for human dignity.

What do you say to Christians who have not returned to the Nineveh Plains yet—those who are afraid of what the future might hold here for their families?
If Christians aim to be like Christ, they must do what they can to deliver his message to non-Christians even amidst conflict. Our presence here is vital. That being said, all people have the right to live in peace and every person is free to choose whether to emigrate or stay. It is our principle, nonetheless, that every human being has to carry his or her cross and follow Jesus; we must also not forget that Christians are oppressed wherever they are because of the Word of Christ.

What is your message to young Christians in Iraq and in the diaspora?
Wherever they go, they bear Christ, whose Gospel teaches us to how to live and love. Our children must keep and promote his teachings and share them with others in the name of peace.

Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has been on the forefront of supporting Iraqi Christians with projects totaling more than $40M, including humanitarian aid for faithful who fled to Kurdistan to escape ISIS, the repair and rebuilding of Christian homes on the Nineveh Plains, and, currently, the reconstruction and repair of Church infrastructure in northern Iraq.

—Ragheb Elias Karash