'If you want to kill us for our faith then we are prepared to die here and now'

For four days, they locked themselves in their home, not daring to venture out.

By John Pontifex

AINKAWA, Kurdish Iraq –When Christian villagers from the Iraqi town of Caramles fled advancing ISIS forces, 80-year-old Victoria was among a dozen or so unable to leave. The widow, a Chaldean Catholic, knew nothing about the sudden evacuation that had suddenly emptied this ancient village she had known for so long. Next morning she went to church - St Addai's - as she did every day. She found the place locked; the streets deserted. She knew ISIS had come.Victoria.jpg

Having found refuge in Kurdish Iraq, Victoria is eager to tell the story the start of how she and her friend and neighbor Gazella survived.

For four days, they locked themselves in their home, not daring to venture out. "Prayer sustained us," said Victoria. But they needed food for the body as well as food for the soul and when supplies ran dangerously low they went in search of water and other basics.

Inevitably they ran into ISI(S forces. Explaining their situation, they asked for help and to their surprise militants gave them water, even after they refused a request to abandon their faith.
A few days later, ISIS troops found them in their homes and rounded them up at St Barbara's shrine just on the edge of Caramles. There were about a dozen of them there, the last remaining Christian inhabitants of the village.

"You must convert," ISIS forces told them. "Our faith can promise you paradise," they added.
Victoria and Gazella responded: "We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith, then we are prepared to die here and now."

Their guards had no answer. The dozen Christians, who included a number of elderly and infirm, were given permission to leave the village. One of them had a battered car. Other transport was also arranged and they made it to safety.
Victoria and Gazelle are still neighbors. But they no longer live in two homes side by side but two mattresses in a room they rent courtesy of the local Chaldean church in Ainkawa, near Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq.

Sitting on their mattresses they told their story. At thend, Victoria had tears in her eyes. “Ebony,” she said to her interviewer, reaching out her arms. Bishop Amel Nona of Mosul, himself a refugee too, told me that 'ebony" is  Arabic for "my child”—a child sitting at the feet of women of great fortitude, faith and friendship.

ACN photos: Victoria (top) and Gazella

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