Fr. Paul describes Christmas celebrations in the former stronghold of the Islamic State. Liturgies on the Nineveh plain “crowded and vibrant”. A new Archbishop in Mosul to rebuild the community, on a pastoral and social level. Christians and Muslims against obscurantism, ask for “dialogue and modernity”.
Mosul (AsiaNews) – If 2014 was “the black year” with the flight of the bishop, priests and faithful following the rise of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis), then 2019 will be the year “of our rebirth, of pastoral and social challenges, of the return of the refugees,” says Fr. Paul Thabit Mekko, the head of the Christian community in Karamles, on the Nineveh plain, in northern Iraq.
He spoke to AsiaNews, at the conclusion of the “crowded and vibrant” Christmas celebrations. “We must foster the rebirth of the community – explains the priest – by helping people to give meaning to their lives, by guaranteeing work and helping them to see beyond their troubles”.
The Christmas holidays “took place regularly”, because “by now the region has reached a certain degree of stability” a year and a half from the defeat (at least military) of the jihadist movement. “There are elements – adds Fr. Paul – that instill optimism, showing that the dark moment is behind us. The churches in Karemles, Qaraqosh, in many areas of the plain of Nineveh were decorated, in some ways there was an even more beautiful atmosphere than the period prior to Daesh [Arabic acronym for Isis] “.
“The birth of Christ – continues the Chaldean priest – is a moment of peace, of joy and the wish is that it can be a new beginning. Of course, our concerns remain, but the appointment of a new bishop in Mosul [the Dominican father Najib Mikhael Moussa] on the occasion of the Christmas holidays represents an element of strength, of pastoral and spiritual rebirth “.
After years of violence and terror, life in the northern metropolis of Iraq is slowly returning to normality. “I would have liked to celebrate a mass in the city – the priest confesses – but due to organizational problems it was not possible. Too many celebrations, too many families in the Nineveh plain who wanted to participate in the functions. In addition, several families who have recently returned to live in the city have preferred to spend the holidays with relatives and friends left in the villages “.
The Christian community is excitedly preparing for the ceremony of consecration of the new archbishop, scheduled for January 18, followed one week later (on the 25th) by his taking of possession of his See in Mosul. “The Dominican father – says Fr. Paul – still has work to finish, before moving on a permanent basis. In these years he has contributed, with his own work, to safeguarding the literary and cultural heritage, Christian and not, from the jihadist devastation of Isis “.
Among the priorities of the near future the “arrangement of the buildings of the diocese, starting from the churches, many of which do not even have a roof to shelter them from the rain or a door to prevent someone throwing the trash inside”. “On the pastoral level, we could begin – adds – with some masses of strong symbolic value, strengthen relations with local authorities, religious leaders, spokesmen for ethnic groups and civil society”.
Fr. Paul underlines a few priority issues for the new bishops such as offering employment opportunities for those who return to the city, creating a center that is a reference point for the faithful, establishing a pastoral plan. These are demanding steps, which will take time, but now we must begin to reap the benefits of what is being sown. After the great flight of 2014, now the area is repopulating and the Christian presence is a visible element in Mosul and the Christian identity is an essential factor for the Nineveh plain”.
Even in relations with Muslims, the new Mosul could mark a break with the past. “The city – explains Fr. Paul – has been liberated not only physically, but also ideologically. Many of those who promoted obscurantism have left. People want to breathe a new atmosphere, they demand dialogue and modernity. Proof of this is the fact that at the celebrations for the New Year [the priest published some videos on his Facebook page], Christian and Muslim families took part, gathered around the tree in the public square, a Santa Claus distributed gifts to everyone, together we spent a few hours in joyful celebration”.