Iraqi Christian refugee prays for ISIS terrorists who killed her relative

A Christian refugee from Iraq whose relative was violently murdered and mutilated by Islamic State has described how she prays for the terrorist organisation.

The ISIS flag flies over a street in Saadiya in Iraq's Diyala province.Reuters

Christina Shabo, who was born under a tree in a refugee camp after her family fled bombing in Iraq in 1991, told the Catholic News Agency (CNA): "I asked Jesus for the grace to forgive every time I would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (a Catholic prayer). But instead of praying 'For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,' I pray 'have mercy on ISIS and on the whole world.'"

Shabo, 25, first gave her testimony to fellow youth on 29 July at World Youth Day (WYD), outlining the events that led her family to flee Iraq and those that have occurred after the rise of ISIS in 2014.

In an interview with CNA, Shabo explained that she was asked at the last minute to incorporate a message of forgiveness into her talk at WYD. She said that her first thought was, "I don't forgive ISIS." Shabo went on: "I've struggled with it, because I haven't gotten there yet. It's a daily reminder," she said.

Shabo's mother was eight months pregnant when her family made the decision to leave Iraq and travel through mountains into Turkey in 1991 due to the threat of bombing during the Gulf War.

Many others took the same decision and some died along the way, including her 8-year-old cousin Rita. When Rita died, Shabo's uncle didn't "have it in his heart" to bury her in the mountains, so he carried her body the rest of the way into Turkey, she said.

The family then buried Rita under a tree in a refugee camp in Turkey. Then, Shabo said, the story "gets even crazier": just a month later her mother's water broke near the same tree, "and my mum delivered me right then and there."

Two years later, Shabo and her family gained religious asylum in Detroit, Michigan. But many of her relatives remain in Iraq, where ISIS has been growing and spreading its violence, including against Christians.

Shabo said the violence of Iraq "was reincarnated" on 20 June, 2014 when ISIS militants stormed Mosul, forcing Christians to convert, pay a high tax or flee.

Shabo told CNA that during the attack, one of her relatives was "violently murdered...He was chopped up in a dozen pieces" and delivered to his family in a bag.

She said: "Imagine someone that you love being delivered to you in a bag in pieces. It's insane. So when I hear stories like that, how could I not be angry?"

A cousin of Shabo was killed in recent bombings in Baghdad and the cousin's mother is still in hospital "fighting for her life".

It was while repeating the Chaplet of Divine Mercy that "it just kind of came to me," Shabo said: "Pray for them. Use that as a way to kind of think about them, but think about them in a more positive way."

Shabo said it was a case of "fake it till you make it" before she could eventually let go of some of her anger. "Anger just makes you angry and bitter, and nothing good comes out of it," she said. "But when you take that and you turn it into mercy and forgiveness, and you see how fruitful that can be, even for yourself, aside from anyone else, you can't stop doing it."

Shabo paid tribute to her father, a deacon at their Chaldean parish in Detroit who kept their fath strong while the family were marching through the mountains from Iraq to Turkey. "As they march they prayed," she said of her family. "That's all they had. They left with nothing".

She added that the family relied on the knowledge that Jesus was with them. Her father would say, "it's okay. Even despite all of this, we have him with us. And we need to hold on tight to that."

This, she said, "is how they got through that, and that's how we continue to get through it."