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Iraq: 'We want to rebuild our convent and return home'
"We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home."
On the Nineveh plains, more than 360 churches and Church properties have been damaged or destroyed by ISIS. Among them are a number of convents, including one that belonged to Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, two of whose members, Sisters Luma Khuder and Nazek Matty, spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
By Daniele Piccini
SISTER Luma Khuder and Sister Nazek Matty are hopeful about the rebuilding of their convent, Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf, to the north of Mosul. They are encouraged by the fact that the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church jointly established the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), whose task—for starters—is to oversee and plan the repair and rebuilding of almost 13,000 family homes.
In fact, until the summer of 2014—when ISIS captured the Nineveh plains, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena had convents in several towns in the region. The sisters fled with the rest of the Christian population to Kurdish Iraq, where they became IDPs under the care of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil.
Sister Luma told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the sisters immediately jumped into action to help the uprooted faithful by distributing food and other essential supplies. They set up “emergency convents” to remain close to the people under their care. In 2015, the sisters opened two schools as well as a nursery, which are serving close to 1,000 students.
In the wake of the ouster of ISIS from the Nineveh plains, however, the situation is changing dramatically. “There is no longer any danger in Teleskuf, and a number of families have now returned to their homes,” said Sister Nazek, and Sister Luma added: “ACN is starting to rebuild the homes, including those in Teleskuf. ISIS only stayed in the village for a short time, and so the houses are not too badly damaged.
"We are also repairing our convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf. We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home.”
“We know that since January 2017 some 450 families have returned to Teleskuf, and many others are preparing to return,” said Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads ACN’s Middle East desk and serves as chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “Today, of all the villages on the plains of Nineveh, Teleskuf is the safest,” he said, since the Kurdish army controls the area.
Father Halemba expressed his hope that “the return of the Christian families to Teleskuf will have a ‘domino effect’ on the families from the other villages, who are still hesitating to return because they worry that the situation is not yet altogether secure.”
“ACN will be contributing some $45,000 towards the cost of restoring the Dominican convent in Teleskuf. The sisters need to return as soon as possible, for the families have need of them.”
“Across the Nineveh plains as a whole, there are 363 Church properties that were damaged by ISIS and which now need to be repaired or rebuilt. Of these, 34 have been totally destroyed, 132 were set on fire and 197 are partly damaged. In Teleskuf alone we have counted 1104 private homes and 21 Church properties that have been damaged by ISIS,” reported Father Halemba.
Sisters Nazek Matty (left) and Luma Khuder; ACN photo