by Joseph Mahmoud
The church was damaged by a bomb in 2006, during which a boy was killed. After a patient restoration work, the place of worship was opened with a Mass presided by Msgr. Sako. “The blood of the martyrs – the prelate says – is an invitation to persevere in faith.”
Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The Christian community of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, is celebrating the official reopening – after a painstaking restoration – of the parish church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For one evening last week the violence and massacres, including the series of bombings of 20 March and the killing of a believer on February 22 in Mosul, were forgotten as the religious minority celebrated a joyous moment gathered round their pastor and priests of the community. In his homily, Archbishop Mgr. Louis Sako asked those present to “witness the faith” between persecution and abuse, urging them not to leave the country but on the contrary, “to remain” to help create a future of hope.
The parish church, opened in 1965, was fully restored through the efforts of the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk. On the evening of March 22, Msgr. Louis Sako has chaired the inaugural mass, concelebrated in the presence of many priests and faithful who packed the place of worship. A Christian says that “the church was full” and “priests from other parishes also arrived “for a moment of “real celebration”.
On 29 January 2006, the church of the Virgin was a target of violent attacks by Islamic fundamentalists (see AsiaNews, 01/29/2012 Bomb attacks on Churches in Baghdad and Kirkuk), the extremists attacked the Christian worship, in response to the Pope’s address in Regensburg, which had sparked controversy with the Muslim world. The explosion of a car bomb had also caused the death of a 13 year old altar boy named Fadi Raad Elias, who, returning from school, had stopped by the church to pray “to thank Jesus for good school grades”.
During his homily, Msgr. Sako recalled the sacrifice of the young Iraqi Christian “martyr”, and his death and bloodshed, the prelate explained, are “an invitation to persevere” despite the “challenges” that the community will face. “Our number is decreasing – added the archbishop – due to emigration, but our presence, the witness and the implications it generates depends on the cultural, moral and spiritual quality that we can offer to a dynamic participation in society “.
“The decrease in the number of Christians – said Msgr. Sako – should not bring down the influence of the minority on Iraqi society. Here and now we need to rethink the meaning of the Christian presence and the way in which we witness our faith.”