3 February 2011
by Bud Courtney

 “Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than
he does is father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and himself as
well.  Whoever does not carry his
own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. None of you can be my
disciple unless he gives up everything he has.” (Luke 14: 25-33)

I write this from the city of Suleimaniyah, in northern Iraq.  I came here fragile.  Frightened.  I came unprepared.  A part of me understands that there are more then enough
issues to keep one occupied in New York City, or wherever one resides. Yet
there seemed something right, if belated, about going to a country that my
government had declared war on.

 I have only been here one month.  I have listened to stories of discrimination, torture, and
murder. I have traveled to Halabja and toured the museum telling the story of
the chemical bombing and attempted genocide by Saddam in 1989.  I see construction and reconstruction
all about.  And I feel love.

 I have experienced similar hospitality in Palestine and El
Salvador—more than I could ever claim I offer on the lower east side of
Manhattan.  When friends traveled across Cuba in 2005, attempting to visit
the detainees in Guantanamo, they knocked on doors of locals each night and
asked if they could perhaps camp in their backyards.  They were warmly allowed each night. “What would happen if
twenty-five Cubans did this in New York” my friend Matt Daloisio said.

 Back here in Iraq, I cannot think of one person who has
treated me with anything but compassion. I realize that here in the north we
are “reasonably” safe. Baghdad remains a ticking nightmare of violence and
fear.  I do not take my safety for
granted; I am aware of where I am.  But I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to be here;
to learn of the situation over here, of the struggle of the Kurdish people for
their own identity; of a country looking to forge its own government; of a
people attempting to live freely.

 I shall return to New York as the Lenten season approaches.
On Good Friday, as we do every year, a number of us, partaking in the Pax
Christi Stations of the Cross, will traverse across New York, from the United
Nations to the U.S.S. Intrepid air and space museum.  At this war museum, we will read the names of those innocents
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And
as we are arrested, I shall be mindful of all those I have encountered here in
Iraq and of the love and caring I have witnessed here.


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