"We walked for peace, to proclaim the possibility of peace in that fought-over land."
Two years ago Canon Sarah Hills, Vicar of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, spent part of Holy Week and Easter on a peace walk – a pilgrimage – in Northern Iraq.
About 20 people mainly from Europe walked with local Christians, Muslims and Yazidis.
“A quarter of people living in Northern Iraq live in refugee camps, people internally displaced from their own country due to attacks. Many refugees and aliens in their own land,” says Sarah. “We walked for peace, to proclaim the possibility of peace in that fought over land.”
On Good Friday they visited a village about 30km from Mosul – a village that had been destroyed, the villagers having all fled – or worse. “It was a place of destruction, completely devoid of life. Houses were rubble, shops damaged, and the church though still standing had been desecrated, the altar broken and lying in rubble. We could hear Mosul being shelled.
"So I held a Good Friday service in the desecrated church. We laid candles that we had brought with us in the shape of a cross in front of the destroyed altar and prayed the prayers of Good Friday, the pain and lament for Jesus, and for healing, for the end to that conflict, for peace.”
Bringing Good Friday hope to a shattered church
On Easter Day they returned. But this time, the bleakness in the Church was transformed. “The same rubble was there, the same bullet holes in the walls, the same broken crosses and hacked memorials. But there were people from the surrounding villages, flowers on the altar, children dressed in white, and a packed church there to proclaim the hope of the resurrection, the hope of peace and the possibility of rebuilding.”
Soldiers of the local Peshmerga came to receive their Easter communion. There were even painted eggs and chocolate after the service. “People were rather surprised to see a female priest,” says Sarah. “I don’t think I have been asked to bless as many babies!”
The foundation of a rebuilt community was born that day. A space in between for remembering and for reconciliation.”