Interviewing Fr. Yousif Thomas
© Fr. Yousif Thomas
Construction workers put the foundation of the Popular University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Baghdad, Iraq. The university is founded by the Dominican Brothers in Iraq.
Dominican Brother Yousif Thomas from Iraq agreed to be interviewed on my blog. I feel honored that he accepted my request considering his busy schedule and life in Iraq. He told me that English is his 8th language and worried some of his thoughts may be lost in translation. I think Fr. Yousif's English is excellent and I wish I spoke those many languages :-)
- Q: How are Iraqis doing in general and the Iraqi Christians in particular?
A: The situation is being difficult for everybody. We have many media outlets. Maybe too many (more than 30 satellite TV channels, around 100 radio stations, and 2000 written newspapers and magazines). But, the worst are services: electricity, roads, water supply, schools, hospitalsÂ etc.
Christians are spread all over Baghdad and the country, they suffer with the others. But maybe more, because the particularity of their situation as a minority. As all minorities in the Middle East, Christians as the invaders, and more cultivated than the average of the population in a region, which is the most illiterate in the world according to the report of UN (UNESCO) of 2004.
- Q: Did the Iraqi Christian community celebrate Christmas 2005 in a normal way?
A: What can be normal, in this country that's maybe going through the most difficult period of its history?
As Christians we always refused to be considered as a ghetto. If Christianity is only to celebrate the folklore, then it is wrong. Our life is to maintain a certain level of life, respect and culture, not only in this country but all over the region. Many of us don't understand why such thinks are happening to us, why many don't want to live normally? Why other countries are attracting immigration and others are pushing their population to immigrate?
- Q: How is the project of the Open University going?
A: Our Project of Open University was to help questioning this generation; our Logo is based on a phrase of Archimedes 230 BC: "Give me a place to stand and with a lever and I will move the whole world." In my opinion culture is this lever which can move our world, and I hope we who want to stay, because it is our vocation to save the people we can; and we must do it.
- Q: How could expat Iraqi Christians order your and other priests' Iraqi-published books?
A: It is now possible with the post services, even if it is more expensive than before, but if somebody can send money in any way, then he/she can order our publications, the two "Christian Thought" magazines (for adults published since 1964, and for children 6-12 years, published since 2004)
- Q: You visited the Iranian Christian community with a church group this year. Tell us about this experience as we know very little about the Christian community in Iran?
A: My visit to Iran was with a group of 23 Christians form different churches and jobs. We were invited to dialogue of religions. Our community in this huge country is very small. It's less than 250,000 people. The majority are Armenians. We met many of them and discovered the difference of the cultural context between us. They are too little to have any impact on their environment. They suffer too from immigration. I don't think their Diaspora can help them to maintain this hemorrhagic situation.
- Q: What are the largest challenges for the Iraqi Catholic Church to overcome in the next decade?
A: Immigration doesn't help the society, it helps individuals only. This is a big challenge to us; and being spread all over the world makes us so tiny and weak. We have something to give and we say we carry behind us a glorious past, a rich history; but nothing is done by our expatriates. Look at the 200,000 Iraqi Christians who are outside. Do they have schools? Universities? Important Media? And the most dangerous for them is to be dissolved in the new context.
The big challenge is to be a bridge between generations, religions, communities, and may be individuals, to help each one to become aware of his identity.
- Q: How can the church attract people to become clergy?
A: Vocations are a gift form the Lord to every community. This is the heart of every group to awake this appeal in its youth generously, among their members to serve the deepest of the needs: spiritual and identical needs, we tried for 3 years, many methods were searched, nothing can replace a generous gift of itself.
Thanks to God, we still have young vocations. At least this generation will be served, but I hope the level of education can be better by helping the education and formations centers as seminaries and colleges, formation convents andprioritiessÂ etc.
- Q: What's the best way to keep youths in the church?
A: Our youth are in the church, they find their a place to discover themselves, it is a challenge to them to live with others, but we must not spoil them, by attracting to lose their time, we lost too much time. Youth are not the aim of the Church they must have another goal, learn how to serve Jesus in his brothers and sisters, they must think of the future, this is the best think they can do in the church, otherwise they will leave it, if better is offered to them.
- Q: How can Catholics measure their success in life?
A: The mystery of religion is not how to succeed in life, but how to sacrifice life for a worthy and valuable person, even marriage, who aims to be successful can collapse, Love is other face of sacrifice, and this gives a big consolation to all depressed generations who consider that they lost their lives, those who spend many years in military services, in exile, or prisoners in Iran, or searching to immigrate without success, to all those who dream, I would like to say: "Stop dreaming, what you lived is valuable, come bring it, be happy with, and live what still remain with joy and share it with others, in this way we can overcome. Other people did it before us, read the Bible and you will see in it the mirror of what we are living now".
Thank you Father for taking the time to answer my questions.