Steubenville, Ohio, Dec 10, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A Catholic university in the U.S. has partnered with an Iraqi Catholic college to promote opportunities for scholarship, collaboration, and understanding between the two countries.
Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and the Catholic University of Erbil (CUE) in Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Dec. 6.
“The agreement forges ties between the two schools and cities that include cultural exchanges, such as the visit this past September by Iraqi high school students to Steubenville,” Tom Sofio, a Franciscan University spokesman, told CNA.
“The agreement also allows for the development of language courses in Arabic and Aramaic to be offered to Franciscan University students, the pursuit of scholarship funding for Iraqi students to study at Franciscan University … and Skype sessions between students at Franciscan University and The Catholic University of Erbil,” Sofio added.
The document was signed by Father Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan, and Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who founded the Iraq university in 2015.
Under the agreement, students from Iraq can receive scholarships to take Franciscan University courses in person or online, and, in turn, Franciscan University students will have opportunities to visit Erbil, study there, and better experience the culture of the Kurdistan region in Iraq.
Erbil’s Catholic university, only four years old, has 147 students and offers 10 programs, including pharmacy technology, accounting, law, and international relations, the Herald-Star reported.
The partnership will also explore avenues of catechetical assistance for the Diocese of Erbil, which could involve the collaboration of Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute, Conference Office, and Wild Goose, a ministry led by the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular and founded by Pivonka.
The partnership has been supported by Aid to the Church in Need USA. The organization also recently funded two of CUE’s computer labs, which especially benefit students in civil engineering or architecture programs.
Warda founded the CUE in 2015 to promote higher education and to help Christians displaced by the Islamic State.
Some 125,000 Christians live in Iraq. The Christian population of the country has declined dramatically in recent years, as Christians fled the persecution of the Islamic State or were killed. The northern Kurdistan region in Iraq has about 4,300 Chaldean Christians, the Herald-Star reported, and several thousand more have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan since 2014.
Pivonka expressed hope that the partnership will be an opportunity for U.S. Catholic students to interact with Christians in other countries who have faced terrible persecution.
“Largely the Christians in Iraq have been forgotten. But they have much to offer us,” Pivonka told the Herald-Star this week.
“We talk about inconveniences in our faith. But in Iraq there are people who are dying for it. All of the (Iraqi) youth here have family members who have been killed. It’s just part of their faith.”
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