KRAKOW — Christina Shabo wanted to go to Iraq this summer, but her father would have none of it. Instead she’s here, at World Youth Day, giving her testimony to 20,000 young people and the world.
Krakow is described as the “capital of Divine Mercy,” home to the Divine Mercy shrine where St. Faustina, known as the “secretary of Divine Mercy,” received revelations from Jesus in her prayer about the depths of his mercy.
Shabo, a 25-year-old who was born under a tree in a Turkish refugee camp, switched out “us” for “ISIS” in the Divine Mercy chaplet, the devotion that developed around the Divine Mercy image that was revealed to Sr. Faustina.
She spoke Friday after New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), at the Mercy Centre hosted by the Knights of Columbus at the Tauron Arena.
“I won’t be able to feel as driven or as complete unless I go back and help my own people. It’s been something that’s been in me for a while,” she tells me.
“I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know why it’s there. But it’s there and it’s undeniable. There’s a lot of shame and guilt that comes from not being able to do that and pursue it. But hopefully with the grace of God, it’ll happen.”
Can you really forgive ISIS? I ask her. She’s completely honest with me; no, she doesn’t forgive ISIS. But she’s trying – thus the prayer. And into her prayer she pours the truth. She’s angry. She’s frustrated. She’s sad.
She remembers a relative who was “chopped up in a dozen pieces.” There is a cousin who was killed recently in a bombing in Baghdad and his mother is fighting for her life in a hospital there.
“But I did,” she says, “I really did take it to Him… I go to [Eucharistic] adoration.”
She was in adoration one day — meaning that she spent time praying before the Eucharist — while repeating the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had heard that morning,” Shabo explains.
“And it just kind of came to me: pray for them.”
She insists that no one is powerless when it comes to Christian persecution and genocide.
“Take that anger, take that frustration — and do things politically. Do things on that front. But don’t forget the prayer,” she says, because that’s where God’s grace really gets working.
God has “softened my heart,” Shabo says. She’s found it transformative. And it’s the only way to operate, she observes.
“Anger doesn’t do anything. Anger just makes you bitter; nothing good comes out of it. But when you take that and you turn it into mercy and forgiveness, you see how fruitful that can be… [and] you can’t stop doing it,” she says.
Recalling how often Iraqi Christians have suffered persecution of one kind or another in recent decades, she observes that “without changing their hearts,” good will never prevail, peace will never be a reality.
Without changing hearts, she says, persecution will continue, and Christians may very well be driven from their homeland permanently.
“If there are no Christians in the Middle East aside from our people aside from the connection that I have with them, that in itself is a tragedy, because that’s where Jesus is from,” says Shabot, a Chaldean Catholic whose liturgy is in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.
“That can’t happen. I don’t want to see that happen,” she says of the genocide Christians in Iraq and Syria have been facing. “I don’t want to live in that world. If we don’t do something about it, then unfortunately that will be our reality.”
She’s heartened by World Youth Day, seeing the love and concern fellow young pilgrims from throughout the world have for her and her people. She even recorded the long standing ovation Archbishop Bashar Warda from Erbil, Iraq, received earlier in the week.
She wants to use the warm welcome the archbishop from Iraq received as an encouragement to the young people at the Shlama Foundation she’s worked with back home, which reaches out to the persecuted in the land of her heritage.
Shabo considers herself a miracle baby, surviving a hike through the mountains in utero, when a young cousin didn’t. And she feels a special closeness with Iraqi Christians living in Erbil, having fled ISIS-controlled territory, and having been born in a refugee camp.
She feels called to “take what God has given me, the faith that my parents have been able to instill in me since I was a child, and to take all the goodness that is there, and give it back to the people there.”
Meantime, she does crisis intervention on a suicide hotline in Detroit and knows that the refugees of the ISIS genocide need that kind of help.
“It’s hard not to feel that I can take what I have and help them,” she says. “Because I have been blessed,” living in Detroit most of her life.
She sees quite clearly God’s purpose in the “talents, the abilities, the connections, the stories, [and] background” that is uniquely hers.
“When you feel that purpose, and you feel him working through you, it’s hard not to want to continue,” she smiles.