Monday, September 06, 2004

Father Yousif Thomas - Part II

Please, read part I of this subject before you continue reading this post. Thank you.

The article continues with Fr. Yousif Thomas thoughts:
Thirty-five years of a Baathist dictatorship have changed the Christians of Iraq in a very deep way. Our Dominican priest tells us in a matter-of-fact and frank way, "It's not right to claim that Saddam Hussein supported the Christians. But it was certainly true that he, like most other dictators, used the fears of a small community to manipulate them so cleverly that he seemed to be their protector!"

During the last 20 years some 250,000 Christians, a quarter of the Iraqi Christian population, have left the country and most of them after the Gulf War in 1991.

"The 'flower' of the Christian population has emigrated and the ones who are left have fallen from a good life to poverty. When it comes to me, I've lived during the repression of this regime since my youth. As I had the great privilege of pursuing my studies in France, I was able to acquire a culture that has given me a point of reference in my life. I've constantly been trying to go against the stream encouraging people to stay on in their home-country instead of 'running away.'"

"All through these years I've preferred to stay in the background in order not to have to make serious concessions to a very powerful state machine. During those years of repression we were not allowed to have satellite dishes and our phones were being tapped. The censorship was harsh on our magazine. Every new issue gave me knots in my stomach when I knew that there was some word that could rub the authorities the wrong way. To me the poster with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a way of healing people from fear!"

As an all-time visionary, Fr. Yousif Thomas is now all afire for a new project with a completely different scope; that of "recreating people's souls and spirits." His dream is to create a "Popular University" in Baghdad that will give courses in the humanities. These courses will be held on five afternoons of the week.

So what is the goal of this?

"It is to train a new generation of leaders," he said.

"Knowledge is something that will save us, and it cannot be imitated and taken in a superficial way. It must be received as something that will affect body, soul and mind. The generation between ages 20 to 50 years, which hasn't known anything except Saddam Hussein, has already been destroyed and it has been thrown into a cultural void. Now we must give them the means of analyzing themselves and the way they are living and eventually give them the true meaning of their existence."

Fr Yousif Thomas' Popular University will not be asking for any fees and will be open to "all adults regardless of social or religious status and with no personal restrictions nor fear for taboos." Yes, this "University of St. Thomas Aquinas for Humanistic Studies" will teach philosophy, psychology, history, the history of religions, languages, the history of languages, linguistics and sociology. In this way, the Dominican Fathers of Iraq will be able to continue to develop and also make use of their extensive experience with "Theological Circles" held for 20 years in both Baghdad and Mosul. Now the most pressing need is to find the funding estimated to USD $2.1 million.

The Christian community certainly is in a state of change. Despite almost daily attacks from cells of criminals and local mafias that take people hostage this Christian community already shows signs of newly won vitality. It's not a coincidence that during the last 10 years the Dominican Fathers of Iraq have tripled their numbers.

At the end of the month of August this year, four young people will start their monastic training and formation. On our short visit to Iraq we also met up with Alhan Nahab, 30, and Anwar Nadhim, 42, who are two very active lay-people in the church. Their "House of Bethany" has just celebrated its 10th anniversary as a home for severely handicapped women.

Qais Isa Goga, 35, is a young Christian artist, who has just defended his doctoral thesis on "The Architecture of the Christian Monasteries and Convents in Iraq." Rita Hikmat Audish, 21, graduated as a scholarship student in Trieste in Italy and is now looking forward to further her studies at the University of Louisiana.

By launching a "new way of thinking," Fr. Yousif Thomas is going against the usual trend among Middle Eastern Christians in general and Iraqi Christians in particular to constantly be on the defensive and lose sight of their objectives and very often eventually give in to their desire of running away from this part of the world altogether.

Francois d'Alancon concludes the article with the following statistics regarding the Christian Iraqi community:
Iraq counts a Christian population of 800,000 to a million out of a population of 24 million. It is very diverse and among the churches you find the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East (both better known as Assyrians or sometimes Nestorians) as well as a small minority of Evangelicals. The number of Christians hasn't stopped declining since the Gulf War in 1991, when there were 1.2 million Christians in the country. The newly appointed government counts one representative from the Christian community, Ms Pascale Isho, Minister of Emigration and the Displaced.

I hope these two posts answer many questions I frequently receive by e-mail. There's more to come. Actually, the next post is the most important post for me and Fr. Yousif regarding his project. I had to split this subject into more than one post so I could get your attention.

To be continued in the next post.

Father: أب - / ebb /
Joseph: يوسف - / yousif /

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