Fr. Najib Mikhael Moussa has been appointed Archbishop of Mosul. File photo: Safin Hamed/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Pope Francis has appointed a new archbishop to lead the Chaldean Church in Mosul.
Fr. Najib Mikhael Moussa was elected Archbishop of Mosul by the synod of bishops of the Chaldean Church and the pope assented to the appointment, the Vatican announced on Saturday.Fr. Najib, 63, was born in Mosul and worked in the oil industry before going to France to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest in the Dominican order in 1987 and then returned to Mosul.
He dedicated years to preserving Iraq’s Christian heritage, founding the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre – an organization that finds and digitizes ancient manuscripts, and trains Iraqis in the techniques.
When ISIS militants swept through northern Iraq, Fr. Najib filled his car with rare manuscripts and moved the headquarters of the centre to Erbil. The archives include Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Yezidi papers on theology, mathematics, literature, and history.
“We can’t save a tree if we don’t safe its roots, and a man without culture is a dead man,” he told AFP in an interview earlier this year.
Fr. Najib and UNESCO’s Louise Haxthausen opened a new facility for the centre in Erbil last week.
The archives “embody the Spirit of Mosul – a spirit of trust, confidence and peaceful co-existence between Iraq’s numerous communities,” said Haxthausen at the opening.
Fr. Najib is “passionate for his people and their heritage,” said Archbishop Warda of Erbil, congratulating his “teacher and friend” on his appointment.
Christians have a rich history in Iraq, but have been persecuted for decades.
Fr. Najib’s predecessor Emil Shimoun Nona was forced out of Mosul by ISIS.
“I lost my diocese,” he told the Catholic News Agency in Erbil in 2014. “The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is alive.”
The archbishop before him, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped in 2008. His body was found days later in a shallow grave outside of Mosul.
In Iraq’s last census, 1.5 million Christians were counted. After years of conflict, estimates are that 250,000 to 300,000 remain, most of them in the Kurdistan Region.
Christian IDPs in the Kurdistan Region say they want to go home, but ask how that is possible when their homes and churches have been destroyed.
Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean church who was elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis in June, says the solution to protect Christians must come from within Iraq.
“We Iraqis must protect one another and count on each other. We must have civilized dialogue, be open with each other and respect each other. That’s the solution. The outside forces only mean trouble for us. World Christians protecting Christians here or the Muslims of Indonesia protecting the Muslims here, so on and so forth, it makes absolutely no sense. If that’s the case then there’ll be a world war,” he told Rudaw in September.
Pope Francis also approved the appointment of Fr. Robert Jarjis as auxiliary bishop of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Baghdad on Saturday.
Fr. Robert, 45, was a vet before becoming a priest. He has served as a parish priest in Baghdad.