Friday, July 18, 2008

The Missing

Having been expected for this week's events Down Under -- and gotten a lot of help and visibility to make their pilgrimage a reality -- the group of Chaldean Catholics slated to attend from Iraq have been held back:
Salina Hasham, a World Youth Day employee, has been working for months trying to get the 170-member Iraqi delegation to Sydney.

At first, it seemed the Australian government would not issue any visas to the group, Hasham said. Then 10 visas were granted and, finally, a total of 25 visas were approved.

But as of July 17, she said, "they are stuck in Iraq. They have been at the airport for days, but flight after flight has been canceled."

"It appears forces inside Iraq do not want them to come," she said.

Hasham said the Iraqi youths were committed to celebrating World Youth Day even if they have to do it by praying together at home and organizing their own events.

"But the 25 (who received visas) are still keen to represent their country in Sydney," she said.

Hasham expressed hope that they will arrive before the July 20 closing Mass....

Wasem Hermiz, 28, one of the Sydney Chaldeans, said he had been told that the Iraqi pilgrims had been refused visas because it was suspected that they would seek political asylum in Australia.

The Iraqi delegation "first became aware there was a problem two weeks ago. They are devastated that it couldn't be resolved. They have done a lot of preparations for World Youth Day in Sydney -- and now it has come to nothing," he said.

Hermiz said the group included priests, religious brothers and sisters, and at least one bishop.

While Hasham said those with a visa still were trying to get out of Iraq, Hermiz said he had heard that "faced with the dilemma of only some in the group coming to Australia, they all declined to come."

"They will be carrying on in the World Youth Day spirit in Iraq with a week of reflections and prayers. They have asked all Catholics to please remember them in their prayers," he said.