ISIS HAS BEEN OUSTED from the Christian towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq, but Syriac-Orthodox Archbishop Timotheus Musa Al Shamani is worried about the lack of security.
“Without security and jobs no Christian will stay in Iraq,” stressed the head of the Diocese of Saint Archbishop Al Shamani urged that “an international peace-keeping force be stationed on the Nineveh Plains. We want a guarantee that our freedom and our security will be upheld.”
The archbishop believes that the United States has a special responsibility for the security of Christians. “All our politicians follow America,” he explains. Yet, he remains skeptical about the announcements made by the present US government that it will be sending relief funds directly to the Christians rather than through the UN. “We hear a lot of speeches from President Trump. But we want to see action,” the archbishop said.
The prelate fears a return of radical Islamic groups. “We suspect that a group similar to ISIS will evolve in future, whatever it may call itself.”
On Aug. 6, 2014, the ISIS conquered the Christian heartland near the northern Iraqi metropolis of Mosul. About 120,000 Christians had to flee. Many of them spent years as internal refugees in Iraq or fled abroad. Iraqi government troops and their allies managed to re-take the areas occupied by ISIS, and since then tens of thousands of Christians have returned to their heavily damaged homes.
Alongside other faith-based agencies, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the rebuilding of Christian life on the Nineveh Plains in a major way. Archbishop Al Shamani said: “Without the help of church organizations such as ACN we Christians would not have survived here.”
The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, in Kurdish Iraq, Most Rev. Bashar Warda, also highlighted the support given by ACN. His diocese hosted and cared for the great majority of the Christian internal refugees from the Nineveh Plains. With a view to the reconstruction work on the Nineveh Plains, the Archbishop stressed the importance of making rapid progress, saying: “This summer is very critical for us. We must make every effort to rebuild these villages. The Iraqi government has already told us that it has no money and will not be helping us.”
The archbishop was optimistic about the financial assurances from the US Government. He admitted that no money had been forthcoming to date, but added: “I’m firmly convinced that the US intends to help us. It’s the first time an American government has acknowledged that the people here are being persecuted on account of their faith.”
Archbishop Warda also stressed the role of Christians in the societies of the Middle East. “The whole of the Middle East is being convulsed by violence, corruption and political upheaval. It is blighted by sin. It is Jesus who forgives these sins and heals the wounds. Who can give this restless and corrupt region Jesus other than the Christians? We are therefore not only Christians—but also disciples of forgiveness and love.”
ACN has provided more than $8M toward the rebuilding of the Christian communities liberated from ISIS occupation. To-date, 45 percent of the families driven out have returned and 35 percent of the houses damaged and destroyed have been made habitable again. Even a number of churches damaged by the ISIS have been restored.
ACN began its major support of Iraqi Christians in 2014, when the Christian refugee crisis in Iraq erupted; ACN also provided funds for housing and schools as well as for food and medical supplies for the internally displaced faithful. All this was done within the framework of one of the largest single relief efforts in ACN’s history. In total, ACN has supported the Christians in Iraq with $40M-plus since 2011.