Iraqi Christians daring to hope as Mosul falls

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Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, left, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, pose for a photo in Iraq.
“Confidence and hope” were the feelings reported last week among displaced Iraqi Christians as news emerged that forces combating so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul have driven the terror group from all parts of the east-side of the city and are set to launch a final push for the remainder.

The reports of elation were offered by Chaldean Fr Paul Thabit Mekko to AsiaNews from the camp he oversees in Kurdish-controlled Erbil, providing for some 700 people, mainly from Mosul, who fled the ISIS advance in 2014.

Having reported the military gains to his rudimentary ‘congregation’, Fr Mekko reported that families now live in fervent hope of being able to return to their city. Indeed, a group from the camp felt confident enough to travel to the liberated zones in order to learn firsthand what has become of their homes.

Small measure

Fr Mekko’s dispatch offers a small measure of the desire and willingness of Iraq’s Christians to return to those areas of Iraq so violently altered first by war and then by the excesses of ISIS.

Their ability to do so is now being argued for by other Church figures.

With Iraq shaking off the grip of ISIS a little more each day (it is reported that all ISIS military commanders in Mosul are now dead), Iraqis of all creeds can entertain the hope that life that is ‘everyday’ and ‘normal’ can be regained in the country.

There has been no shortage of supporters in this, not least among those calling for action on behalf of hard-pressed Christians to enable them to endure into the future; one of the most favoured proposals has been the creation of a ‘safe haven’ on the Nineveh Plains.

It is something Christians soundly reject, even at this early stage of rebuilding.

According to Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who last week visited displaced Iraqi Christians in both Iraq and Jordan, anything less than reintegration with their Muslim neighbours is unacceptable and counter to the Iraq that was. Speaking to Catholic News Service on behalf of Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Bishop Cantu quoted his fellow prelate: “We don’t want to live in a ghetto. That is counterproductive. That makes us a target for our enemies. We have to live in a secure but integrated community where Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Sunni Muslims, etc., have relationships with each other. We need an integrated reality, rather than a ‘Gaza’ where there’s a wall and someone is guarding people going in and out.”

Such words lend weight to those of yet another prelate, Kirkuk’s Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Mirkis, who visited France last week to call on Western countries to re-pledge money that has been used to help Iraqi refugees in those countries to now help Iraqi Christians stay at home and rebuild.

“Staying and resisting as a Christian minority is the right way,” the archbishop stated.

As a side note to such things, while international media has focused with renewed horror on the return of ISIS to the ancient and historic city of Palmyra, and the fresh architectural damage accompanying that, a local Kurdish broadcaster, Rudaw, has offered some measure of Mosul’s fate with a short video of the damage wrought to another site of historic importance, the Tomb of Jonah.

In a two-minute segment, which can be viewed at something of the scale can be appreciated amid the precincts of the tomb, with mountains of rubble piling up to the very door of the site.

The same segment then shows brief footage of soldiers of the Iraqi Security Forces taking a brief respite from the fight that has brought them this far, and the hopes of Christians with them.’