Sunday, September 05, 2004

Father Yousif Thomas - Part I

There are five people who influenced my Catholic beliefs during the years. These people are:
Pope John II
Mother Teresa
Father Gatt, my church's pastor in Sydney
Monsignor Glenn Duffy Gardner, my church's pastor in Dallas
Father Yousif Thomas from Baghdad

Father Yousif Thomas has been my inspiration for many years. He's someone who describes himself as "a person who swims against the tides." He has:
Ph.D. degree in Theology (University of Strasbourg - France)
M Sc. degree in Ethnology (College of Nanter-Paris 10 - France)

Father Yousif Thomas is the editor-in-chief of "Christian Thought" magazine published by the Dominican Friars in Iraq. As far as I know, it's the only Christian magazine published under Saddam's regime. Fr. Thomas still lives in Iraq. I've corresponded with him by e-mail for more than a week now. I needed his words to assure me there's hope left for the Iraqi people in general and Iraqi Christians specifically. I took his permission to publish his thoughts about the future. These thoughts were part of an article written by Francois d'Alancon:

"Last summer after having spent some weeks in France I said to myself: 'The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something very nice, but how much do people know of its contents?'" said Father Yousif Thomas Mirkis, a Dominican priest, in charge of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph and the editor of the Alfikr-AlMasihi" (Christian Thought) Magazine in Baghdad. To find out for himself Fr. Yousif Thomas started a small inquiry among some well-selected Christians and Muslims.

"It was shocking to realize that not even one of these people had ever read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations back in 1948," he said. "As a result of this, we decided to get in touch with the Iraqi Minister of the recently created ministry of Human Rights and asked him to distribute the text of this same Declaration, of which Iraq was a co-signatory."
"Certain articles had been put aside, like the right to choose where to live within a state, or the right for a man and a woman to get married" explains Fr. Yousif Thomas. "The Iraqi Minister of Human Rights told us that he was considering an adaptation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which would suit Iraq, something like a Charter of Iraqi Human Rights."

Fr. Yousif Thomas, 55, didn't allow himself to be discouraged by the response at the Ministry, but instead decided to take it upon himself to publish the Arabic version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a poster.

"I made a print-run of 14,000 copies, of which I mailed 10,000 to our subscribers as a supplement to our Christmas edition of AlFikr-AlMasihi. Some weeks later on we received news that the poster was hanging on walls all over the University of Baghdad. The text has even been seen on walls of several mosques, although the name of our magazine has at times been crossed out. A few months later two employees of the Ministry of Education came to tell me that they were interested in seeing 'my' poster take the place of the portrait of the former president Saddam Hussein in primary schools in the Baghdad region. This would be done in an effort to promote the teaching of Civics at these schools. I willingly gave them 1,000 copies."

Fr. Yousif Thomas' personal initiative ought to encourage other Christians to take an active role in the building of the new Iraq.

"Since the fall of the former regime, the Iraqi Christians have had to face up to the challenge of freedom and liberty. We must experience the necessity of taking personal initiatives without expecting the state to do everything for us. It's very difficult to go through the experience of having been totally dependent on the state and then suddenly becoming totally independent. But not only this, we are also facing tremendous challenges when it comes to new structures, and with the opportunities of dialogue and even discussion between people of different opinions, as well as being able to hold meetings and seminars where we must accept that people think differently. For many years we have been isolated from the rest of the world and we must start to reopen our relations with the outside world. During the last 35 years we as people were brought back to the Stone Age. So, by now, most people don't even understand why they need to change. The perversities of the old regime created us into people who were completely dependent on the State, like sheep following blindly. The price we have had to pay is very high: We were told 'Do not think. We will do the thinking for you.' Just like the slogan of the years of Stalin 'Just try some more, comrades!' we had fallen into a society that was depressive. Today when people tell me; 'Earlier it was so much better when the government decided everything for us.' Then I tell them; 'Today it's up to us to take the decisions'."

To be continued in the next post.

Arabic Word of The Post:

church : كنيسة - / kanee-sa /
churches : كنائس - / kana-iss /

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