ACN Feature Story—Iraq
Mosul was liberated two years ago, but many Christians are still afraid to return
On July 10, 2017, exactly 2 years ago, Iraqi government declared Daesh (ISIS), defeated. The liberation of Mosul took place three years after the city had been subjected to strict sharia law, including forced conversions, mass executions and a resurgence of slavery.
by Xavier Bisits & Maria Lozano , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 10, 2019
Once the city was liberated “no one believed that the Christians would return to Mosul,” explained Syriac Catholic priest, Father Amanuel Adel Kloo in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). But Father Kloo certainly decided to return. In fact, he is currently the only priest in Mosul. He feels that it is his mission to “serve beneath the Cross” while at the same time “maintain and salvage the historical legacy of the Christian people here.” A legacy that includes Christian churches dating back over 1,200 years. As part of this same mission, he is rebuilding the Church of the Annunciation, which will be the first Christian church to be restored in Mosul.
Thus far, the number of Christians who have returned to Mosul is only 30 or 40 people. But there is a much larger community of “itinerant” or rather “commuting” Christians. For example, there are approximately 1,000 Christian students who travel daily to the University of Mosul from the surrounding smaller towns and villages. Added to these, a few hundred Christian labourers, most of whom are working for the government repairing still very damaged water and electricity supply networks. Father Kloo hopes that some of these Christians will eventually return to Mosul.
In 2003 the Christian community in Mosul numbered around 35,000 faithful. In the 11 years that followed the beginning of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, their numbers fell tragically, and the abduction and murder of Christians became an almost daily occurrence. Several churches were closed down even before the invasion by ISIS as many Christians had already left Mosul after the murders in 2008 of the Chaldean Catholic Bishop Raho and Father Ragheed. By 2014, only around 15,000 Christians belonging to various communities remained, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and some Armenian Christian families. The bells that had sounded in Mosul for almost 2,000 years fell silent with the arrival of the jihadists. Immediately, thousands of Christians fled the city. Those who did not, were either forcibly converted or executed.
Renaissance of Christianity in its cradle—Iraq
Although almost devoid of Christians for the time being, the city of Mosul continues to be the “nominal” seat of two important bishoprics in Iraq. Both these dioceses have been reinforced in recent months with the appointment of new bishops—in January with Najeeb Michaeel Moussa as Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul, and in June with coadjutor bishop Nizar Semaan, to support Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul.
…”when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”
In time, Father Kloo hopes to be able to build a complex with accommodation for university students and for people in need. But the most urgent thing is to build a school as now nearly the entire million or so inhabitants of Mosul are Muslim and there are no Christian schools in the city. Clearly, this is a decisive factor for families who may consider returning.
Father Kloo is hoping that the Church of the Annunciation will be finished in three months’ time. And it represents still greater hope for him that it will signify a rebirth of Christianity in the historic city. “People are still afraid,” he says. “However, when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure… And many people will return.”
Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need provided food, shelter, medicine and education for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elsewhere. When communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh (ISIS), the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.
ACN benefactors have given close to 64 million dollars in aid to Iraq between 2014 and May 2019.