A scholarship programme at an Iraqi Catholic university – which is now entering its second year – is helping the country’s beleaguered Christian community stay in their ancient homeland.
The Catholic University in Erbil (CUE), based in the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, is providing a scholarship scheme to help Christians and members of other vulnerable groups with support from Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the founder of the university, said: “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.”
Basma Adwar, who was one of the first students to be given financial support to pursue her studies, told ACN: “Because I have a scholarship to study, I can stay in Iraq. I want to stay in Iraq. I want my future to be in Iraq, and I want to help build the future of Iraq.”
The 25-year-old Chaldean Catholic student added: “I am currently in the third stage of my course in international relations. Without the scholarship I would not have been able to attend the CUE.”
Ms Adwar’s family moved from the capital Baghdad to Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, as Christians were increasingly targeted in the south of the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
They were living in northern Iraq in 2013 when hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee to Erbil from their homes in the Nineveh Plains.
Ms Adwar was one of 128 students to be chosen to receive the first Pope Francis Scholarships in the academic year 2022-23.
The majority of the recipients were Christian, but a small number were given to vulnerable members of other religious and ethnic groups, including 12 Yazidis.
Ms Adwar is grateful to ACN for helping to fund her studies but added that many more students need assistance to enable them to receive a university education.
When she met Marco Mencaglia, ACN project director, at the 2023 ROACO conference in Rome this June she told him about the pressing needs.
She said: “In Rome I also met Marco Mencaglia, from ACN, and I thanked him for the grants they provided.
“I asked him for more scholarships because there are many students who need them, especially in Iraq.”
Over the next three years ACN has committed to providing at least 70 new scholarships.
Archbishop Warda said: “I thank all the very hardworking ACN offices worldwide and all of their donors in supporting the young Christians of Iraq to have not only a right, but the actual opportunity, to obtain a higher education.
“It gives them and their families hope for the future.”
Founded in 2015, CUE is ranked 41 out of 250 higher education institutions in Iraq.
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.