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Caring monk gives vulnerable Christians shelter in church

4 September 2014

Father Jens Petzold has housed more than 150 displaced Christian citizens in his monastery’s church in Iraq, which would normally accommodate just 15 people.

A monk with displaced Iraqi Christians in a church

Photo credit: Tracey Shelton

Father Jens and the community from the monastery in Sulaymaniyah are supporting Christians who have escaped their homes in the Nenewa Plain, near Mosul.

They are working daily to assist those seeking refuge and have also been supporting displaced Yazidis.

> Please donate what you can to help the persecuted people of Iraq

  • They had 30 minutes to pack what they could and go. People came with just the clothes on their backs - some came in their pyjamas.'

Disorientated and stunned

The Swiss monk said: ‘These people are stunned. They have been shocked, tired and disorientated.

‘Many had to leave late at night. They had 30 minutes to pack what they could and go. People came with just the clothes on their backs - some came in their pyjamas.

‘Many people didn’t have a change of clothes so we’ve had to provide basic clothing.’

Fears for relatives

Members of broken families watch videos posted online by Islamic State (IS) militants as they take over their villages; IS militants hang their black flags on their schools, government buildings and churches.

Though deaths of Christians by the militants have been low compared to other religious minorities, Jens told us that people are worried for their relatives: ‘We know of one or two who have been taken hostage by ISIS.

‘Some families have older relatives that choose to stay behind and it isn’t that easy to make contact with them. People are afraid.’

Life in the church

Life is very different for the families now living in the church. Sleeping conditions are cramped and many people cannot work. 

Overcrowding meant the community had to separate families; putting women and children in separate quarters to men, and rent three old houses to meet needs.

‘We are just here for them.’ Father Jens said.

‘As they start feeling more emotionally and physically stable, we will do some classes daily to give them a routine to break up the monotony of the days.’

Praying for safety

Father Jens holds a daily Mass for the families. Children sit on pillows on the floor while adults crowd into the pews behind him. 

During Mass he asks for prayer requests. Many speak of peace, while others, including the young children, ask to be sent from Iraq to a new and safer homeland. 

Generosity and assistance

The church has been overwhelmed with the miraculous generosity of citizens.

Yazidi, Shabak Shia and Sunni Muslim, Christian and local civil society organisations have all distributed emergency assistance to people from different communities, regardless of their faith.

Mary Campbell, a psychotherapist working with the monastery, told us about a recent clothes donation made by a Muslim woman and her son: ‘The Muslim community feel very strongly that they want to be a part of the care.’

Scaling up our efforts

Our partner REACH was one of the first organisations to deliver food, hygiene kits and beds to the church which have made a big difference to the monastery whose tight operating budget covers only three permanent members of their community.

Please help us to scale up our efforts to respond to the growing and desperate crisis sweeping across parts of the country by giving what you can to our Iraq Crisis Appeal.


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