Close on the heels of Pope Francis' visit to Iraq, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Catholic University in Erbil have come together to help young students forced from their homes by ISIS to rebuild their dreams.
Despite difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the first batch of students has joined classes as the new 2022 academic year started.
The “Pope Francis Scholarships” is funded by the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). ACN International has committed over 1.7 million dollars to support the “Pope Francis Scholarships.” They will benefit 150 young students, at least 90% Christians, over four years.
The first batch of 128 students comprises 113 Christians, 12 Yazidi and 3 Muslims. The charity also supports accommodation near the university in Erbil for 12 female and two male students originally from the Nineveh Plains. Many of them were forced from their homes in the surrounding region by Islamic State terrorists in 2014.
This partnership between ACN and the Catholic University in Erbil (CUE) is helping to build a more promising future for Iraqi Christians and members of other minorities in the north of the country.
“The CUE model encourages the whole family to stay and not to emigrate; their children will have an excellent education to obtain work and therefore a future in Iraq to support themselves and their parents,” says Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil and founder of the university.
“If young Christians can be given an opportunity to gain a good education, then they will remain. ACN has already done everything possible to help the Christians remain in their native land by investing in the reconstruction of their homes, churches, and essential infrastructure. Now is the time to invest in the young people of the country,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN, when the project was announced in March 2021.
The CUE, founded in 2015, currently has 280 students in four different years, working to obtain degrees in courses that vary from Architecture and Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) to accounting and English. More departments such as Pharmacy will open next year.
It is to be noted that the Catholic University students are exposed to a Christian ethos and Catholic Social Teaching they cannot find anywhere else in Iraq.
The Catholic University is already ranked 41 out of 250 higher education institutions in Iraq. The university medium is English.
Archbishop Warda hopes to see it climb into the top 10 within a few years. Alongside academic excellence, the university promotes social cohesion and interreligious harmony in a country still recovering from nearly two decades of conflict and persecution.
Heine-Geldern believes that this is a fitting way to keep the legacy of Pope Francis’ visit alive. “We believe that this project will support the Pope’s message in favour of social cohesion and reconciliation. The University is centred around diversity. Here young people of different creeds can learn to live together in harmony.”
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.