A Lamborghini for Iraq: donation from Pope Francis allowed ACN to help persecuted Christians in Iraq

POPE FRANCIS IS AWAITED IMPATIENTLY IN IRAQ. Iraqi Christians, who have been through a harsh persecution, are looking to him for support and spiritual guidance. But it is worth remembering that many of these Christians have already been helped by Pope Francis, long before the upcoming papal visit—albeit help of a somewhat unusual kind.

In November 2017, Pope Francis was given a gift by the famous Italian Lamborghini car manufacturer—a personalized version of its top-end Huracán sports car. After writing his autograph on the hood, the Holy Father decided to auction the car to the highest bidder and donate the proceeds to charity. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was one of the charities designated by the Pope and received the sum of $240,000, which was immediately allocated for the support of the Christian communities of the Nineveh plains in Iraq, who were at last contemplating the possibility of returning to their towns and villages of origin after being forced to flee by the brutal invasion by ISIS.

The Pope’s gift made possible the completion of two important projects. The first of these was the reconstruction of the multipurpose center dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Bashiqa, which belonged to the Syriac Catholic community and which had been destroyed by ISIS. Of the $240,000 donated by the Pope, ACN allocated $200,000 to this project, adding a further $150,000 donated by donors around the world. The second project was the rebuilding of the Syriac Catholic nursery school and daycare center, also in Bashiqa and also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which had been partially destroyed by ISIS. The remaining $40,000 of the money donated by the Pope was allocated by ACN to this initiative. The building, which can accommodate some 70 children, is now complete, although the activities have not yet begun there because of the pandemic.

“We are delighted to have finished work on Our Lady’s kindergarten, which will help and encourage our children to return to Bashiqa and resume their education,” commented Syriac Catholic Bishop Yohanna Boutros Mouche of Mosul. His words were echoed by Father Rezqallah Alsimanni, the parish priest of Our Lady’s church.

Destruction in Mosul

According to the most recent figures available to ACN, updated on Jan. 12, 2021, more than 44 percent of the families who originally lived on the Nineveh Plains and were expelled by Islamist violence have now returned to their towns and villages, thanks in great measure to the wonderful effort of solidarity by the international Catholic community. And almost 57 percent of the homes that had been destroyed have now been rebuilt, thanks to the contributions of various relief organizations.

In allocating the money donated by the Holy Father to these two projects, ACN wanted to demonstrate its support for Christians persecuted by ISIS. The organization is delighted that today both projects have been completed, so close to the time of the historic visit by Pope Francis to Iraq.

—Massimiliano Tubani