I am sustained by the joy of those I serve

He has been living in Erbil since ISIS occupied his city. He sees the faithful begin to lose their trust, and helps them to find a house and gas to cook... "Here and now, it's more important to stay with them than to say the right words."

The home of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul is now occupied by the militants of ISIS. They destroyed crosses and profaned churches. “I heard that they began to sell the furnishings of the cathedral,” Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona tells us. He is a refugee bishop who has sought asylum in the Kurdish territory of Iraq.We interviewed him in June, months after the fall of Mosul (see Traces, July 2014). Today, he is the shepherd of a scattered flock, of thousands of families fleeing fundamentalism.They are in need of everything. Winter has arrived, and it promises to be the hardest season of their lives. One consolation is that they are totally free to celebrate Christmas as they are hosted by the local Christian communities. Archbishop Nona is preparing for Christmas night just as the father of a family would: seeking out gifts for his little ones.

Your Excellency, how would you describe these months in exile?
It’s sad not being able to live in your own house, far from the land where you were born. People are sleeping in tents or in classrooms.They don’t have jobs; they have lost everything. In the beginning, we had the hope that the crisis would be resolved quickly. As time has passed, that has vanished because the signs are not good. What dominates now is discomfort.

What is the greatest cause of suffering?
The spreading loss of trust: trust in our own country, Iraq, and in Muslims in general, though we have lived with them our whole lives.Today, I see people without hope for the future; they live one day at a time.

Have they also lost faith?
No, this they haven’t lost. Our people are here precisely because they do not want to lose their faith. If they had converted to Islam, they could have stayed in their homes.

Are they angry with God?
During the first days, there was anger. Not against God, but against the violence committed by man.

Why do they choose exile and suffering rather than abandoning their faith?
In the Middle East, and especially in Iraq, the faith isn’t just an idea; it’s what constitutes your identity and personality. To deny one’s faith would be to deny oneself.

What do you tell the faithful?
More than saying anything today, it’s necessary to take action, to do something, and to stay with them.This is more important than any words. Of course, I try to explain that life does not end here, that not everything is lost; but I understand that, right now, it’s most important to live in service of their lives.

What do you do to help them? How do you spend your days?
An hour ago, a director from a refugee center that shelters 76 families in Ankawa visited me. He told me that, as of 24 hours ago, they have no gas and they cannot cook. I called the mayor of the city and made him promise to send a truck with gas tomorrow. Earlier today, a family with a son who has a disability came to me.They are living in a classroom with other families. Due to complications with their situation, they asked me to help find a real house for them. Beyond these kinds of tasks, I visit the refugee center to meet people and understand their problems in person. Thus, the days go by. Every day there is something. I’ve been living this way for three months.

What is sustaining you?
My mission is to serve these people.To serve does not mean just to preach or to speak about the faith. Here and now, it also means finding dignified conditions in which a person may live his or her humanity. Of course, faith and prayer sustain me.Then, there is the joy that I see in people when, serving, we manage to find a simple solution to the problems we face every day. This joy is the motivation to continue serving.

Yes, it is something that I see every day. People thank us. Not always, but often they do. I see that what we are doing helps them to regain a little trust. Still, there are many needs to which we are not able to respond.This is painful for me.

How are you preparing for Christmas?
We are trying to organize something, especially for the children.We would like to be able to give them a gift, something small but worthwhile.We are looking for space to have a bit of a celebration.We hope we will manage.

What is your prayer to the baby Jesus?
I ask that He help men and women to understand that violence is inhuman. I pray that we can find a solution to our situation that respects everyone, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or skin color. Just like the manger in Bethlehem, where there were kings, shepherds, and even animals. I am asking Jesus for the gift to return to our homeland soon, and to live in peace with everyone.