When Pope Francis met US President Donald Trump in late May, a Vatican statement said their discussion made “particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.” That need for security has become particularly urgent in Iraq now that Mosul and the Nineveh Plains have been recaptured from ISIS. Displaced Christians want to return to their homes in the newly-liberated territory, but that can only happen when their safety is guaranteed and when regional and world governments supply adequate funding to rebuild communities devastated by ISIS. In this interview, provided by Aid to the Church in Need, a local Church leader assesses the situation.
Prelate reclaims Archdiocese of Mosul
Now that Mosul has been recaptured from ISIS, will Christians be able to return to their homes there soon? It’s too soon to tell, according to Syriac-Catholic Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. He spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
By Olivier Labesse
How did you experience the liberation of Mosul?
As a sign of hope for us Christians. ISIS was driven off. I hope that the attitude of the people will change. The destruction in Mosul occurred on an enormous scale. For us Syriac-Catholic Christians in Iraq, liberation is of course a cause for great joy because the bulk my diocese is comprised by Mosul and Qaraqosh and environs. Today, Mosul is completely destroyed. Officially, all parts of the city have been liberated, even though there are still militants hiding in a number of places. But they will soon be found and captured.
Everything needs to be rebuilt. When will the Christians be able to return to Mosul?
Perhaps in a few years. People will return from time to time to check on their houses, but at the moment one cannot permanently stay in Mosul. However, many people can return to the Nineveh Plains. A good number of families have already arrived there. Some have found work or started restaurants, shops and businesses. It takes a lot of courage to start from scratch again!
Apart from military measures, how can Islamic fundamentalism be combated?
That is exactly what makes it so difficult: you have to be able to affect a change in attitude. In view of the peculiar ideology of these jihadist groups, one has to understand that war is not a solution. We have to be able to live together. We have always lived together and this never was a problem. These recent events have given rise to great hope: that life will begin all over again and that the people will learn how to live together. We are all sick of war. Wars have been fought in Iraq off and on since 1958. We have to learn how to live in peace.
What is your message to donors in the West?
I would of course like to express my heartfelt thanks because their presence is always felt among us and in our diaspora. With their support, we will be able to rebuild our houses. It is a great mercy that we can count on their help. After all, the Syriac-Catholic Christians were the hardest-hit group. They represent 60 percent of those who fled the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, when ISIS invaded the region. But there will always be help.
The challenges facing Christians on the Nineveh Plains are enormous: Currently there are still 14,000 families who have fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains living in Erbil (approximately 90,000 people); nearly 13,000 homes have to be repaired or rebuilt; there are security concerns in the villages; there is Kurdish-Iraqi political manoeuvring on the ground; there are massive infrastructure concerns (water, electricity, roads, schools and clinics; and, most urgently, the IDPs in Erbil will continue to need food aid as well as help paying the rent, pending their hoped-for eventual return to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
To-date, 599 families have returned to the Nineveh Plains and 342 properties are being renovated, in part through funding by ACN. Since the crisis began, ACN has provided ongoing support to the Christian refugees in northern Iraq. To date, close to $35M has been donated for emergency aid, including food, education, housing, pastoral help and reconstruction.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA);www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)