Iraq: two years after the liberation of Mosul, many Christians are still afraid to return

Categories: Christians Under Siege, News

TWO YEARS AGO this month, the Iraqi government declared the defeat of ISIS. The liberation of Mosul took place three years after the city had been subjected to strict sharia law, with the local population subject to forced conversions, executions and a resurgence of slavery.

When the city was liberated, “no one believed that the Christians would return to Mosul,” Syriac-Catholic priest Father Amanuel Adel Kloo told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Kloo certainly decided to return. Currently, in fact, he is the only priest in Mosul. He feels that it is his mission to “serve beneath the Cross” and at the same time “maintain and salvage the historical legacy of the Christian people here.” That legacy includes Christian churches dating back more than 1200 years. The priest is also overseeing the rebuilding of the Church of the Annunciation, which will be the first Christian church to be restored in Mosul.

Father Kloo (Iban de la Sota/ACN photo)

Father Kloo reports that no more than 30 or 40 Christians have so far returned to Mosul. But there is a much larger community of “itinerant” or, rather, commuting Christians. For example, there are approximately 1000 Christian students who travel daily to the University of Mosul from the surrounding smaller towns and villages. Added to these are a few hundred Christian workers, most of whom are working for the government. Among their tasks is the repair of the water and electricity supply networks, which are still in a woeful state. Father Kloo is still hoping that some of these Christians will eventually return to Mosul to stay.

In 2003, the Christian community in Mosul numbered some 35,000 faithful. In the 11 years that followed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that number has fallen radically, as the abduction and murder of Christians became an almost daily occurrence. Many of the churches had been closed down even before the ISIS invasion, because many Christians had already left Mosul after the murders in 2008 of the Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and his secretary, Father Ragheed Ganni.

By 2014, only about 15,000 Christians were still left, including Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics and some Armenian Christian families. With the arrival of the jihadists, the church bells that had sounded in Mosul for almost 2000 years now fell silent. Thousands of Christians fled the city immediately. Those who did not were either forcibly converted or else executed.

Today, the city of Mosul, although almost devoid of Christians for the time being, continues to be the seat of two important dioceses or eparchies in Iraq. Both have been reinforced in recent months with the appointment of new bishops; in January 2019,  Najib Michaeel Moussa was named archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul, and in June came the appointment of coadjutor Bishop Nizar Semaan, who will soon take the helm of the was appointed to support Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac-Catholic Archieparchy of Mosul.

Father Kloo hopes to be able to eventually build a housing complex to accommodate university students as well as people in need. But his most urgent goal is to build a school; almost the entire million or so inhabitants of Mosul are now Muslims and there are no Christian schools—and if parents are to return to the city, a Christian school is an absolute necessity.

Father Kloo hopes that the repair of the Church of the Annunciation will be finished in three months. His hope is that the completion of that project will signify a rebirth of Christianity in this historic city. “People are still afraid,” said the priest, who added: “when the church and the other buildings are open, people will feel more secure … and many people will return.”

Following the ISIS invasion of Mosul and the Niveveh Plains in the summer of 2014, ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and other minorities who had fled to Erbil and elsewhere in Kurdistan. After the communities began returning home following the ouster of ISIS, ACN began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other Church structures. ACN donors have given almost $48M in aid to Iraq from 2014 until Mai 2019.

—Xavier Bisits & Maria Lozano

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