ROME: In the run up to the pope’s visit to Iraq on March 5-8, a Vatican foundation has announced a new program worth €1.5 million ($1.8 million) to support young Christians living in the country.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACS) will fund scholarships for 150 students of the Catholic University of Erbil for the next four years. It is the only Catholic university in Iraq, and 54 percent of its 170 students are women.
Bashar Warda, Chaldean archbishop of Erbil and founder of the university in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, described the scholarships as “a strong gesture of solidarity towards Christians, but also towards other minorities in the region who are marginalized.” He said around 150,000 Christians fled to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 to escape Daesh.
“The Catholic University of Erbil represents a true symbol of hope, especially for younger generations living in Kurdistan and in Iraq,” he added.
“We believe that our scholarships will ensure tremendous support to young people who hope for a better future.”
Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive chairman of ACS International, said: “This project aims to promote social cohesion between the different religious communities, and to ensure better employment prospects for Christian students.”
Most students of the university are either refugees or internally displaced. “We believe this project can support the pope’s message of social cohesion and reconciliation,” said Heine-Geldern.
“That university is built around diversity, with 72 percent Christians, 10 percent Muslims and 18 percent Yazidis.”
Alfredo Mantovano, president of ACS Italia, told Arab News: “In Iraqi Kurdistan the Christian minority lives in relative safety, but the region’s economic situation is precarious. For this reason, many young people decide to emigrate.”
He added: “Not surprisingly, in the last 10 years the Christian presence has dramatically decreased. This program will help young Christians to stay there, receive an education and build a better future for themselves and their country.”
Pope Francis will visit Erbil on March 7, where he will meet religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region.