Mosul Christians open chapel in Erbil as home churches lay in ruins

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By Rudaw yesterday at 09:15
The head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region Archbishop Mar Nicodemus Sharaf. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Upon the inauguration of a new church in Erbil on Saturday the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region Mar Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf said that ISIS militants did not destroy their church directly, but turned it into a mosque for a year before demolishing it along with many other houses of worship.

“They painted it in black, the color of their hearts of course, and used it as storage,” Mar Nicodemus Sharaf told Rudaw. “The monastery was adjacent to the cathedral and was the largest cathedral in Mosul, and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Mosul.”

On Saturday Patriarch of Antioch and the East Ignatius Aphrem II opened a new Archdiocese Residence of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Erbil’s Ainkawa neighborhood.

The Patriarch was joined by Patriarch of the Chaldean Church and Cardinal of Rome Louis Raphael I Sako, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East Mar Gewargis III, Christian leaders from across Iraq, and officials from the KRG.

The church in Mosul was later destroyed and it now lies in ruins. Mar Nicodemus Sharaf said the Iraqi government hasn’t helped rebuild any churches yet and the Christian community themselves cannot shoulder a big responsibility as that.

“Because we don’t have the means to rebuild the church, because it is not the only church that is destroyed,” he said. “All the churches in Mosul have been destroyed, no church has been reconstructed. All Mosul churches were destroyed.”

Mar Nicodemus Sharaf remembers the sad moment he heard about the destruction of St. Ephrem, the largest Assyrian Orthodox Church in Mosul.

“When I remember St. Ephrem, I am very sad,” he said. “This was the largest church and the most beautiful church in the area. This reflects a history of 1,800 years, not one or two days”

He didn’t even “find the stones that belonged to this church,” when he revisited Mosul after ISIS.

Mar Nicodemus Sharaf believes discrimination on the part of the government is part of the reason many churches still remain piles of rubble.

“The root cause is corruption in the Baghdad government, and discrimination and that is what we always feel like Christians in Iraq.” Mar Nicodemus Sharaf argued.

“We feel that we are not part of the central government’s calculations,” he lamented. “Today, more than two years have passed since liberation, our churches are still destroyed, and there is no one to come today.”

He said that the Syriac Orthodox group have six churches in Mosul, the oldest of which dates back to the third century AD.

Added to the destruction of their houses of worship is the fact that many Christians who fled Mosul under ISIS are unable to return home for lack of security.

“We will not return if the situation remains as it is today,” Mar Nicodemus Sharaf said. “There is no return. We will not return without genuine guarantees of security and dignity. We can no longer live in a place where we do not have dignity and we do not feel safe. This is not possible.”

Mar Nicodemus Sharaf warned that Christians are being intentionally uprooted from the Middle East and “This is dangerous”.

“We must remain to be witnesses to Christianity and to true humanity,” he said. “Because in fact wherever Christians live, they give a beautiful image of free man.”