By John Pontifex
Briefing to Donors
SOME 500 Christian families—up to 2,500 people—on Sept. 13, 2017, celebrated their long-awaited homecoming to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains with ceremonies marking a fresh start in their old towns and villages.
In Qaraqosh, the largest of Nineveh’s Christian towns, priests led faithful holding olive branches in procession through the streets, with all chanting hymns in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Protected by security personnel in armored vehicles, the procession was headed by priests holding crucifixes aloft.
A service took place at the Immaculate Conception Syriac-Catholic Church, in the town centre, a building desecrated and burned by ISIS.
During the ceremony, our Middle East projects’ coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba called on people to forgive those who had forced them out of their homes and attacked their towns and villages. He told the returnees: “Of course we cry when we see the violence that has been carried out but we should remove the anger in our hearts. There should be no hatred in our hearts. We should reconcile with our neighbor.”
Afterwards, Father Halemba, who had organized the ceremonies in conjunction with local clergy, gave each family an olive tree to symbolize the people’s return to their roots, the communities where Christians have lived for centuries.
Another olive tree distribution ceremony took place at the Virgin Mary Syriac-Orthodox Church, in Bartella, a largely Syriac- Orthodox town, close to Qaraqosh.
To-date, at least 2,000 families—some 10,000 people—are reported to have returned to Qaraqosh, with at least another 500 families or 2,500 people expected by the end of September.a
We are repairing hundreds of homes in a number of Nineveh’s Christian-majority towns and villages, where widespread destruction was carried out during and after the period from August 2014 to October 2016, when ISIS occupied the region. We are also committed to repairing churches in both towns as well as in Teleskuf, where the restoration of St George’s Church is well under way.
Thanking our donors for helping with the repair of homes, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timotheos Moussa Al Shamany of Bartella said: “This was a wonderful way to mark the start of our return to our homes—the land where we belong.”More celebrations and processions were held on Sept. 14, 2017, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, an especially important feast in the region.