Syriac Catholic Patriarch visits northern Iraq: ‘We have to always hope against all hope’
REPORTING on his December 2019 fact-finding mission to northern Iraq, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said that Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town on the Nineveh Plains, is “slowly returning” to what it was before the invasion of ISIS in the summer of 2014, which triggered a mass exodus of the region’s Christians to Kurdistan.
The Patriarch celebrated Mass in Mosul’s rebuilt Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation. It was the first Mass said there in more than five years. More than 500 faithful from across the Nineveh Plains attended. The church is the first, and so far only, rebuilt church in the city since it was taken by ISIS in June 2014. The Patriarch recently spoke with Aid to the Church in Need about his priorities for 2020:
“At least 50 percent of the 12,000 Syriac Catholic families who were uprooted have returned to Qaraqosh. Schools are open, some of them are rebuilt.
“However, charitable assistance is still needed to rebuild houses and to create jobs, since the Iraqi government is unable to respond to the needs of those who have been hurt, oppressed or uprooted.
“Our big challenge now is to convince the young generation to stay in their homeland to share in the restoration of peace and progress in the country. They have lost hope for the future. This is our biggest challenge: how to tell them that their presence is needed to bear witness to the Lord, living among a majority not sharing the faith with us.
“We are the remnants of Apostolic Churches and our very survival is threatened. If these Churches do not exist anymore in the Middle East, it will be a big loss not only for Christians in the Middle East but for all of Christianity.
“Our mission is to preach hope to our people. We have to always hope, against all hope. I keep telling our faithful to remember the sacrifices of our forefathers who endured oppression, hardship and persecution for their faith. We owe our faith to the endurance of our forefathers.
“It’s very sad to say, and I’ve said this many times: Christians of the Middle East have not only been abandoned; they have been betrayed by the civilized countries of the West.
“This is not just a theory. It’s the sad reality that we Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, have become endangered and our very survival is threatened. The responsibility of Western nations is very real and indisputable. Their opportunism created conflicts that have led to chaos. It’s very sad.
“If the international powers want peace, they can make it happen. Because of their opportunism they don’t work for the stabilization of the region.”
—Doreen Abi Raad