Is hope reborn?
Montreal/Surrey, September 27, 2016 – If the town of Mosul is taken back from the hands of Daesh (ISIS), the event might pave the way for Christians of Iraq to return home to the Nineveh Plains, to their ancestral home. It is at least the hope of the leading bishops and other lay organizers in the local Church who wish to establish an agreement with the Iraqi government on the subject.
A delegation led by Aid to the Church in Need arrived in early September to the North of Iraqi Kurdistan – where half of the country’s 250,000 Christians live in present day Iraq. The delegation met with many people displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains who had fled the Islamic State in August 2014.
Along with providing emergency help, the delegation found that the local Church is in the process of developing proposals which will enable Christians to return to their towns and villages which were previously taken from them.
The delegation had the opportunity to speak with Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Msgr Louis Raphael I Sako, the spiritual leader of the largest Christian community in Iraq. According to him, it is essential that, in the case of the now imminent liberation of Mosul – Christians may return to their village where at one time, they made up a strong minority.
“Freeing Mosul and Nineveh from ISIS might be a glimmer of hope for native residents to return home with the condition of providing legal protection for them, and also granting them the necessary time to rebuild trust with their neighbours.
“Otherwise, the “hemorrhage” outflow of migration [of Christians] will continue, even from safe areas, which is a very serious sign,” said the Patriarch.
The Christian population of Iraq numbered over one million inhabitants prior to the fall of Iraq’s former president, Saddam Hussein.
A real sense of hope returning
“I sensed much more hope among Church leaders and faithful than I did on my visit last year,” declared Neville Kirke-Smith, director of the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need and member of the delegation which brought with them aid for at least 100,000 people. “It is clear that the Church is making a strong case to reclaim its place in a region where – until 2014 – there had been an unbroken Christian presence stretching back almost to the start of Christianity.”
“This is indeed really good news reported to us by our colleagues!” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of the Canadian office of the international organization. « To be frank, I was beginning to lose hope, especially because few government bodies around the world are prepared to recognize the tragedy underway in Iraq where Christians are living. Massive waves of immigration are progressively emptying the country of an inestimable inheritance, and Christianity is in danger of losing the first Christian community in its history. Aid to the Church in Need will stand by the Church in Iraq as long as they will need us to help them rebuild. ““This is a commitment that we made long ago. Hopefully, more Canadians will help us achieve this goal that we have to strengthen the Church in Iraq. “
” The delegation also went to Alqosh,” reported Mrs Lalonde.
“Our colleagues had the opportunity to visit this ancient which is completely Christian and situated about 10 minutes from the front with ISIS. The people have displayed their determination to stay where they are and to save their village and the Church.”
For his part, Mr. Kyrke-Smith had the opportunity to meet Msgr. Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Bishop of Erbil. Msgr Warda has partnered with Aid to the Church in Need to help distribute emergency aid. “For nearly 2,000 years we Christians have been present on the Nineveh Plains and to return we need international protection,” he said.
According to the bishop, “The Iraqi army needs to be a united force and the Peshmerga [Kurdish military] will help, with outside support. Military action as reconciliation work needs to be done. As Christians we have no involvement in violence – we have suffered – so we can help rebuild.”
Since August 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has supported 100,000 Christians displaced by the advances of the Islamic State. Over 9 million dollars were given in emergency aid and for the construction of infrastructure for schools so that the children will not be a generation lost to war. The Catholic organization also provided support for the spiritual lives of the population – by helping priests, Sisters, supporting the training of seminarians and the construction of a chapel in the refugee camp.
By Mario Bard and John Pontifex,
Aid to the Church in Need Canada/ ACN international
Translation and adaptation, Amanda Bridget Griffin ACN Canada