The Salesian Community:
The Salesian Community in Istanbul offers a great service to Iraqi Christian refugees in Istanbul. It is a sign of hope for the future for them and for their children, far from war and terrorist threats which daily menace and kill Christians. The service offered by the Salesian Community to these Iraqi Christians is the education of their children with the heart of our Founder Don Bosco, a way of bringing them to an encounter with Christ.
During the school year there is a group of Iraqi teachers, also refugees, who offer an educational programme for these young people. The Salesian Community in Istanbul generously offers all the help it can and especially love for youngsters who have experienced more than five years of fear and violence.
Iraqis in Turkey:
Iraqis are in Istanbul in order to complete UN requirements for acceptance into countries like America, Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe.
The Turkish Government considers them to be under the protection of the UN. But Turkish citizens on the street don't easily accept them, unfortunately, and it is the young people who face the greatest difficulties. They can be beaten up or robbed, as has happened to two of the leaders amongst the Christian youngsters who attend the Salesian oratory. Those who attacked them know that the Iraqis cannot call the police since they are not meant to be causing problems to the Government.
Camp and Oratory:
Once the school year has finished, two young Salesians from the Middle East Province (MOR) give the Salesian Community a hand with a summer camp. They are Brother George Fahmi, in second year of theology at the Crocetta. He is from Egypt. And Brother Dani Gauria in first year of practical training in Damascus, Syria.
The theme chosen for the camp this summer was “A Great Dream”, following the motto chosen for various Houses in the province during summer of 2007.
Considering the needs of the young people, two sessions were offered each day: Mornings from 9.00 - 12.00 with activities on “The Great Dream” for children from 6 to 15 years of age. This was a Gospel-based educational programme filled with activities, outings, games, dancing, music and the like. In the afternoon another session for 12 to 16 year olds from 3.00 - 6.00 pm with group meetings, English language learning, music, singing, theatre and competitions. The oratory is very small - just a small courtyard with a theatre and around 8 classrooms.
The morning activities ran for five weeks and concluded with a special feast day Mass in Arabic and presentations from the participants. But then there was also a series of camps on Beucada Island. One for girls, 6 days; another for boys; there was also a Weekend for leaders and a camp for older youth lasting 4 days only since these ones also work.
The oratory was kept open from Monday to Friday with the two activity sessions, and every Friday afternoon there was an activity for the leaders: a film, Eucharistic adoration, feasts. Saturdays was reserved for older youth with activities appropriate to their age: discussion and sharing, educational films, manual work, competitions...
One thing the Iraqis really need is prayer, prayer for Iraq and the difficult situation Christians find themselves in, and another prayer for the Iraqi refugees that they may be able to reach Turkey, place their future in God's hands. Finally, a prayer for the Salesians in the Middle East and the community in Istanbul.
This summer, Providence sent two groups of young Irish (non-Catholic) helpers who gave a hand in the Oratory.
Hopefully next summer others who are reading this may come and give a hand?.