By Oliver Maksan
Since it was made known that Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery had been destroyed by the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, there has been widespread distress in Iraq. “St. Elijah’s monastery in Mosul was a symbol of the Christian presence in Iraq. The fact that it has been destroyed is terrible,” Father Dankha Issa told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Thursday 21st Januuary. Father Dankha is an Iraqi monk belonging to the Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda of the Chaldeans, a religious community of the Chaldean Church which is in full communion with Rome. Until he was forced to flee from IS in 2014 he had lived in Saint George’s monastery in Mosul. “St. Elijah’s monastery was over 1400 years old. It had stood abandoned for a long time. But it meant a lot to us Christians. It was an expression of our extremely long history in Iraq.” Father Dankha said that what affected him in particular was the fact that clearly no-one was able to stop the jihadis. “It is the sons of the devil who do such work. We can only pray for them. God alone can help us.”
(Fr Dankbar Issa pictured with a family leaving Iraq for Jordan with hopes of finally emigrating to a safer country © Aid to the Church in Need)
On Wednesday 20th January the American news agency AP announced that IS had razed St. Elijah’s monastery to the ground. An analysis of satellite pictures of the sites conducted on behalf of the agency had revealed that the monastery had already been destroyed between August and September 2014. Up to the conquest of Mosul by IS in June 2014 thousands of Christians had been living in this predominantly Sunni city in Northern Iraq. They fled immediately after the conquest by the jihadis or they left the city in July 2014 having been set an ultimatum by the self-appointed IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
IS had deliberately destroyed a large number of sites of religious and cultural significance in Iraq and Syria. There had been worldwide concern at the destruction of the 1600-year-old Mar Elian monastery in the Syrian city of al-Qaryatayn in August last year, after the town had been taken over by IS. In a number of cases churches and church institutions had also been put to different use, for instance turned into prisons.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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