Iraqi Church eyes return to ancient homelands once ISIS is ousted from Mosul

"Until 2014 there had been an unbroken Christian presence stretching back almost to the start of Christianity."

By John Pontifex

NEW YORK—Banking on support from Baghdad, Iraqi Church leaders have expressed hope that the country’s Christians could return to their ancient homelands on the Nineveh Plane once the region’s major city of Mosul is recaptured from ISIS.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad, head of the largest Christian community in Iraq, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the return of faithful to Nineveh is crucial if the Church in Iraq is to survive long-term.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of ACN-UK, who just returned from Erbil, the regional capital of Kurdish northern Iraq where the bulk of Iraqi Christians have found refuge, said bishops and lay Christian leaders were hopeful of Christians going back to their homes once “international protection” would be in place.

A Christian refugee in Kurdistan.jpg.2.jpg

 “There are well-made plans for the liberation of Mosul and Nineveh, with precise plans to relocate displaced people,” Kyrke-Smith said, adding that “it is clear that the Church is making a strong case to re-claim its place in a region where, until 2014, there had been an unbroken Christian presence stretching back almost to the start of Christianity.”

Patriarch Sako explained that according to a plan the Church leaders have in hand “freeing Mosul and Nineveh from ISIS might be a glimmer of hope for native residents to return home,” provided there is “legal protection for them, and also granting them the necessary time to re-build trust with their [Muslim] neighbors. Failing that, he said, the exodus of Christians from Iraq will continue.

Iraq’s Christian population has plummeted from more than one million before the fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003 to less than 250,000 today.

More than half of Christians still in Iraq are displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh and Plane. Kyrke-Smith said that “it is vital that Christianity which has been driven out from Nineveh towns and villages is given the chance to come back to life.”

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, a key project partner delivering ACN emergency aid for displaced Christians, told ACN that “for nearly 2,000 years we Christians have been present on the Nineveh Plains and to return we need international protection.

“The Iraqi army needs to be a united force and the Peshmerga [Kurdish military] will help, with outside support,” he said, adding that “military action as well reconciliation work needs to be done. As Christians we have no involvement in violence, but we can help rebuild.”

An Iraqi Christian in Kurdistan; ACN photo


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