Where priests double as master-builders
Meet Father Georges Jahola of the Syriac Catholic Church, and Father Salar Boudagh of the Chaldean Catholic Church, in charge of the reconstruction work in some of the Christian villages on the Nineveh Plains.
It happens that Catholic priests must suddenly improvise and move into other roles – such as educators, parents, advisors, teachers and sometimes even as technical instructors. In Iraq, where the so-called Islamic State has damaged or destroyed almost 13,000 homes belonging to Christian families on the Nineveh plains, they have been required to assume the role of engineers and master-builders, in the interests of seeing their Catholic faithful return to their hometowns and villages, one day.
The study of building plans sometimes takes the place of other more priestly duties and the priests, after having celebrated Holy Mass, are soon on the telephone, ordering electrical equipment, window fittings, sanitary ware and other building materials. “Here in Iraq, if the Church does not tackle these things, who else will do it? We have the skills, the ability to engage in dialogue and the necessary contacts,” explains Father Georges Jahola, who originates from the town of Baghdeda (Qaraqosh) and a member of the “Nineveh Reconstruction Commitee” (NRC). This committee set up by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) as a body tasked with planning and supervising the rebuilding of thousands of Christian homes destroyed by IS.
In Baghdeda, no fewer than 6,327 homes belonging to the Syriac Catholic Christians are in need of rebuilding (at least 108 of them destroyed), while those of the Syriac Orthodox Christians number 400 (only seven of which have been totally destroyed). However, there is no lack of enthusiasm or ability. “After the liberation of the town, between November 11 and December 3, 2016, we spent 15 working days photographing 6,000 houses in Baghdeda,” explains Father Jahola. “We divided them up and mapped them sector by sector, assessing the degree of damage in each case. There are houses that are very badly damaged or even destroyed, which need complete rebuilding; houses that have been burned or struck by missiles, which can still be rebuilt. And then, there are houses that have been only partially damaged and can be repaired without much difficulty. We began work with a team of 20 volunteer engineers. Today I have 40 of them helping me and almost 2000 able-bodied workers ready to start work. We are optimistic about it. The re-connection of the electricity supply is slowly being extended throughout the town.”
Reestablishing Christianity in the lands of the prophets
The first rebuilding projects are focusing on those villages where IS only stayed for a short time, without doing too much damage. “We have begun rebuilding work in Telleskof and Bakofa, because the damage to the houses is not too serious, unlike in Badnaya, where 80% of the houses have been destroyed,” explains Father Salar Boudagh, 35, vicar general of the Chaldean diocese of Alqosh and a member of the NRC, now responsible for the rebuilding work of five Chaldean Catholic villages in the Niniveh plains: Telleskof, Bakofa, Badnaya, Telkef, in the eastern section, and Karamless, in the western sector of the Niniveh plains.
“Before the arrival of IS,” continues Father Salar, “there were 1,450 families living in Telleskof, 110 in Bakofa, 950 in Badnaya, over 700 in Telkef and 875 in Karamless. For these families the first precondition for returning to their villages is security. Our area, the eastern part of the Niniveh plains, is patrolled by a Christian security force, the Zeravani, who can give us a 100% guarantee of security. They are an official militia who are paid a salary by Kurdistan.”
The second condition is the financial resources. The almost 13,000 houses that now need rebuilding, following the ravages of IS, have been divided according to the “coefficient of damage.” “It costs 7,000 dollars to refurbish a home that has been lightly damaged,” Father Salar explains, reading the figures from his smartphone. “To repair a house that has been burned out costs 25,000; to rebuild a house that has been totally destroyed costs 65,000 dollars. I pray to God,” he concludes, “that the benefactors of ACN, who have helped us so much up till now, will continue to help us in every way possible – to rebuild our homes and our villages, to encourage the families to return and re-establish Christianity in the land of the prophets.”
Article: Daniele Piccini, ACN International
English adaptation : Amanda Bridget Griffin, Canada