IN MOSUL, Iraq’s second largest city, Christmas bells rang out again this year for the first time in four years. During the preceding years this once so familiar sound had no longer been heard. Now, thanks to the ouster of ISIS from the city, Christians were able to celebrate Christmas Mass in the church of Mar Boulus (Saint Paul) in the Al-Mundshen suburb of Mosul.
However, the joyful event almost didn’t happen. Right up until Christmas it had been nearly impossible for Christians to clean their church in Mosul. But then a group of young Muslims took the initiative, helping with the clean-up and even re-erecting the cross; in a sign of reconciliation, the Muslims also invited all Christians in the region to celebrate Christmas in Mosul.
Ranking prelates from various Churches celebrated the liturgy in Mosul especially for 400 displaced Christian families. The proceedings were led by Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and Bishop Shlemun Warduni of Babylon, Shlemun Warduni—both Chaldeans); the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Youhanna Moutros Moshe of Mosul, and the Syriac Orthodox Bishop Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf. Also among the guests of honor were the presidents of the universities of Mosul und Nineveh.
While most displaced Christians from Mosul are still living in Kurdistan, the first 60 families have recently decided to return to Mosul, reported Patriarch Sako. “The efforts of the Churches to recreate a stable and peaceful environment for the local population have borne further fruit,” said Father Andrzej Halemba, who oversees Middle East projects for our organization.
“Let us hope that the light of Jesus may shine in people’s hearts and bring light to our wounded world,” said the Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel, who referred to this special Christmas service as one of the absolute highlights of recent months.
In 2003, there were some 1.3 million Christians in Iraq, accounting for approximately 8% of the total population. Today their number has fallen to only around 250,000, representing less than 1% of the population. Until recently there were no Christians left in Mosul, since they were all forced to flee when ISIS captured the city in June 2014.
Our organization is currently working to encourage Christians to return to their former homes in Iraq. With a campaign entitled “return to the roots,” ACN is closely involved in an extensive program to rebuild the homes and churches of the uprooted Christians from the Nineveh Plains region, not far from the city of Mosul. Already a third of the Christian exiles have now returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains. In its Christmas appeal ACN is continuing to call for donations to make possible the resettlement of Iraqi Christians in their ancient homeland.