Mossul – Iraq – 1st part
“I cannot believe my eyes when I see what ISIS has done to my church.”
While most displaced Christians are still living in the Erbil refugee camp, the first 60 families have recently decided to return to Mosul, according to Patriarch Sako. Nadia, a Christian woman, visits the city for the first time after ISIS left. Jaco Klamer accompanied her and described the painful memories for Aid to the Church in Need. Read the first part of this very emotionnal visit.
Lemons, grapefruits, oranges and figs grow in abundance in the three gardens of Nadia Younis Butti’s house in Mosul, the house her parents built. Nadia always enjoyed the luxuriant vegetation, trees and succulent fruits, sitting in her rocking chair in the midst of the fragrant shrubs and flowers. However, everything changed on July 17, 2014. Nadia was forced to leave her house in Mosul, because ISIS had occupied the city. “With pain in my heart, I left.”
After the liberation of Mosul last summer, Nadia returned to her hometown. “It is still extremely dangerous in Mosul,” sighs Nadia. “I just spoke to a police officer who lost a colleague this week, near the Mar Gurguis church. He was shot at night. Many residents of Mosul worked together with jihadists for three years, and some might have relatives or family members who were with ISIS. There are a lot of Sunnis who supported ISIS. The city was liberated by the Iraqi army, which is supported by many Iranian Shiites. In Mosul, they are met with a great deal of distrust; they are not seen as allies. For me, the city has not become safe since the recapture of Mosul.”
A worry-free period
“The Islamic State will always remain in Iraq.” This is the message a jihadist scribbled in black on a wall of the famous monastery of Saint George
(Mar Gurguis), in Mosul. Nadia Younis Butti lets the words sink in while taking a look at the famous monastery, which has been completely destroyed by extremists.
“Each spring and each fall, the faithful and Christian monks gathered here in this monastery for three days,” she recounts. “There were various activities and we could spend the night here. I look back at that worry-free time with great joy.”
Yohanna Youssef Towaya also has many beautiful memories of the time when Christians could gather freely in the 17th century monastery of Saint George. Yohanna worked as a professor at the University of Mosul and lived in the city, but when the university acquired an additional building in Qaraqosh, another Christian city on the Nineveh plains, he moved there.
With Nadia, he looks at the monastery’s sloping dome and walks through the imposing corridors of the monastery, the floors, walls and arches of which have been stripped of the beautiful marble slabs. The marble slabs were stolen, leaving only debris scattered throughout the building. The jihadists also decapitated an eight-century old statue, which is still in its niche. As a final token of their disrespect, they destroyed the altar.
Praying through the chaos
In another niche, Nadia and Yohanna find prayer cards, a booklet with the New Testament and prayer books of the Chaldean Catholic Church, victims of harsh weather conditions, containing the well-known Morning Prayer:
“Our Lord and our God, at this time of morning, give salvation to the oppressed, release to the prisoners, recovery to the wounded, healing to the sick, return to those who are far away, protection to the kindred, forgiveness to the sinners, atonement to the descendants, exaltation to the righteous, support to those in need. (…) So act in Your kindness and mercy, now and ever shall be, world without end.”
“Amen,” whispers Nadia in the empty monastery, where no prayer has been heard in three years.
“The monks left for a monastery in Alqosh, where the prophet Nahum wrote his prophesies on the nearby city, Nineveh,” says Professor Yohanna. “We are not sure whether the monks will ever return to Mosul, which is close to the ruins of Nineveh.”
An arrow on the walls of the monastery points in the direction of Mecca, allowing the ISIS warriors to pray five times a day during the demolition. Not even the graves of the monastery were spared during the occupation by ISIS: the gravestones were systematically destroyed.
The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN is currently working to encourage the return of the Christians to their former homes in Iraq. With its appeal for a “return to the roots,” ACN is closely involved in an extensive program to rebuild the homes and churches of the uprooted Christians from the Nineveh plains region, not far from the city of Mosul. And indeed with some success – for already around a third of the Christian exiles have now returned to their homes on the Nineveh plains.