On Monday last, I went to Charles de Gaulle airport with members of the Association d'entraide aux minorités d'Orient (Organization supporting minorities in the Orient) or AEMO, to meet family members of people wounded in the October 31 attack on the Baghdad cathedral. At the request of the French government, AEMO members had found the wounded in various Baghdad hospitals, and the government had brought 53 people out in an air ambulance on November 8. With me was the lone surviving priest, Fr. Raphaël Qatin, and some of the wounded awaiting their relatives. Our volunteers have cared for them daily since then, a huge burden on the little NGO I've presided over since its inception, designed to locate Iraqis threatened personally with death for reasons of faith. We have helped mostly Christians, but also Muslims and Mandaeans as well.
As eleven tired travelers strolled out of the customs area, laden with the belongings they could take, the reunions were joyful and terribly sad. One woman, awaiting the 17-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son she hadn't seen since November, was trembling and weeping as she waited. Weeping because her son had never been told that his father is dead, dead of his wounds. She dreaded telling him. It could wait a day, she told me in broken English. Fr. Raphaël embraced an elderly man, red-faced and crying unashamedly, whose son Fr. Wasim Tabeeh was the first to die. As he tried to convince the assailants to leave the church, they threatened him. When he pleaded that they take him and leave his parishioners alone, they opened fire and actually cut him in two with concentrated AK-47 shots. The gentleman will find his wife, resettled in another city in France. A family of five children and their father impatiently awaited to leave and find their mother and wife, still recovering from her wounds.
Until these people came, we located such people qualifying for refuge in France, helped them come to France, and get re-settled. AEMO volunteers have welcomed Iraqis to France and refuge since 2008 -- some 1300 in all. For the first time that we have picked people up at the airport, a squad of police surrounded us until we got everyone into waiting vans, while a little further away, French commandos with automatic weapons stood alert. They hadn't forgotten, at least.
As for Fr. Raphaël, he is still recovering from the bullet that blew through his spleen and other organs, as well as the deafness from the grenades and suicide vest explosions. He told me that he will not return to Baghdad, as he had first thought. "Now I am a citizen of the world," he said, ironically. We chatted about an eventual trip to the United States, to tell his story.
So that people not forget ... Egypt and Libya have overtaken these people in the news cycles, as well as all the Iraqi Christians who remain in that country. But they keep coming, keep fleeing, keep praying, keep dying. We are still waiting for all the family members and the more lightly wounded Syriac Catholics to join us here.
Please, Gentle Reader, do not forget.
Follow Bishop Pierre Whalon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bppwhalon