By Fr. Daniel Corrou, SJ
We were driving to the village of Qaraqosh, Iraq late in the evening and the temperature was still absurdly hot: 120 degrees F. In the darkness of the drive, I was reminded that we were driving a very real Via Cruxis. In 2014, Christians, Yezidis (Ezidis), and many Muslims had been forced to flee from their homes in the Nineva Plains by the rapid advance of ISIS. These roads that we were driving had been filled with the chaotic scenes of people fleeing for their lives, desperate to escape. This beautiful valley, home of civilizations, had become a valley of tears.
This Via Cruxis became the focus of my prayer during my recent visit to Qaraqosh, Mosul, and Sinjar. The mid-September liturgical calendar helped this as well. The Chrisitan community in Baghdad and the Ninewa plains hang brightly lit crosses in front of their homes for the weeks before the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross on September 14. Visiting towns destroyed by ISIS, and the horrific stories of torture, execution, sexual slavery, and brainwashing of children, gave real weight to the trauma of the communities.
The cross is a symbol of two foundational elements of the Christian faith: that amid the suffering of our lives, Christ remains with us; and that suffering is never the end – the stone is always removed and the resurrection occurs. Death is not the end. As the Christian funeral liturgy reminds us, “in death, life is changed, not ended.”
The Cross, this instrument of torture and execution, hung outside people’s homes as a reminder that the Christian community remained. The minorities that ISIS worked to eliminate, remain, and are rebuilding. The absurdity of Christ crucified is not the full story because it only makes sense with Easter lenses.
The work of JRS in northern Iraq to rebuild communities is beautiful work, and it is made real by the Chrisitan, Ezidi, and Muslim staff of JRS who live that vision of hope and accompaniment in all they do. They work so that communities can rebuild and support all members to ensure that no one is alone.
The Ezidi, Christian, and Muslims who were killed, raped and traumatized by ISIS give powerful evidence to the presence and power of evil and suffering. However, the resilience of those women who were held as sex slaves, or those men who saw their families killed, and who wake up today to begin the slow work of rebuilding their communities, are evidence that suffering is not the end. As Christians we speak of the Via Cruxis. Our Ezidi and Muslims friends use different language but share in the lived response – that suffering is not the end; we are never alone or forgotten.