Missing nearly three years, Iraqi Christian girl escapes ISIS grasp
"What happened with Christina and with her family and with us is a 'divine miracle!' "
On Aug. 7, 2014, ISIS captured the
Nineveh plains, expelling many thousands of Christians—but many faithful
remained trapped, including the family of Christina Hanna, who was three at the
time, and her parents, Mr. Khouder Ezzo and his wife Aida Hanna. On Aug. 22,
2014, robbed of their money and gold, the family was allowed to leave Qaraqosh,
but in a cruel twist of fate an ISIS militant grabbed Christina at the last
moment. Miraculously, Christina reappeared, alive and well, was rejoined with
her parents on June 10, 2017. Witness to this happy ending was Father Ignatius
Offy, a Syriac Catholic priest based in Ankawa, Kurdistan. He spoke with
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
By Maria Lozano
Ignatius, how did come that you know the
Christina’s family and I are from
the town of Qaraqosh. The families in our region know each other well and we
all have close social relations. In addition, I am a priest, and since the
beginning of our forced displacement from our region on the night of August 6-7
2014, I have been tracking people captured by the Islamic State.
submitted the list of persons whose fate is still unknown to many individuals,
organizations and associations. Among the names, of course, was Christina—he
youngest of them all.
How are you feeling after her miraculous return?
What happened with Christina and
with her family and with us is a ‘divine miracle!’ In
my humble opinion, this is the fourth birth of the child Christina. The first
time when she was born to her parents, the second time was at her baptism, the
third time was when a Muslim family adopted and took care of her during the
period she was lost, and finally when she returned to her family and her
Christian community. Christina was
given a new life. We thank God for His work with her, with her family, and with
all of us.
Do you know where Christina was hidden during
these three years?
Christina’s father explained to us
after the kidnapping: “We kept asking the people who remained in the region
about our daughter. The last phone call we had was with one of our relatives
who assured us that Christina is fine and was seen with one of ISIS soldiers
near the mosque. All communications were cut off after that.” Five months after
her abduction, Christina’s family was informed by one of their acquaintances that
the baby was fine and living with a Muslim family in Al-Tanak area in Mosul.
that time, the Muslim family had taken Christina from a mosque in Mosul, took
her to their home and treated her like one of their own. They wanted to reunite
the baby with her own family but they feared for her safety. So they kept,
protected and took care of her and her needs.
How did her family keep
the faith during Christina’s disappearance?
For two years, Christina’s family
heard bits and pieces of her but could not communicate directly with her. Many
foreign and Arabic news agencies and satellite channels who met Christina’s
family and wrote about her abduction made her story widely spread. Her parents
and family toiled in searching for her and published her photo. Her father
prayed the rosary each day for her return. He kept the pictures of saints next
to Christina’s image on the inner walls of the caravan where they lived in
their involuntary exile.
How was possible to
bring her back to her family now?
After the fighting erupted in the
south of Mosul, the Muslim family which had adopted Christina moved to a safer
place. The father got hold of the cellular number of one of Christina’s family.
He got Christina’s elder brother’s phone number and called him late at the
night of Thursday June 9, 2017 and asked him go to Kojli district in Mosul to
take his sister.
On the morning of the next day,
Friday, June 10, Christina’s family went to the rendezvous point and the two
families met. Christina was handed over to her real family. She was in good
health. Her parents thanked the family who took care of her during the last
three years. Christina was finally reunited with her real parents, family,
relatives and her people.
How is Christina now? She has to be very confused…
Today, the baby girl is almost six
years old. She’s still shocked and scared. She has forgotten her real father,
mother, brother and sisters. She has also forgotten what she had learned of her
Syriac mother tongue. She could only speak Arabic. She speaks very little with
her family and with the guests that come to visit. Sometimes she smiles at them
and sometimes she doesn’t. She plays with the gifts people are getting her when
they visit to see how she’s doing.
And how will you describe the reaction of the parents,
the family – the whole community praying and waiting for her for so long time?
The mother was really emotional and
the tears of joy filled her eyes. She describes her baby’s return as a “miracle.”
She is shocked at how big she has gotten and changed; she didn’t recognize her.
“We thank God that He saved her from ISIS,” said the father. As for her
brothers and sister, they couldn’t explain their feelings about the return of
their youngest sister.
The community welcomed Christina home with music and
dancing. They threw her a little party at the compound where the family lives.
A special prayer server of thanksgiving was held for her and for the missing
people still held by ISIS.
As you said, Christina is not the only case of
Christians and Yazidis children abducted by ISIS, do you know about other cases
I don’t know any other children
other than Christina who have been liberated and got reunited with their
families. What I know is that we have many Christian persons who were captured
by ISIS but who haven’t been heard of ever since, including little children,
teenagers, men and women, young and old.
Do you know about the future plans of the family?
Christina’s family home in Qaraqosh is
destroyed. They currently live in a camp for the Christian refugees in a small
two-room caravan. Her older brother, who works in an Erbil bakery told us:
“Honestly, we do not have any future in Iraq. Six months ago, we applied for a
visa to migrate to France but haven’t got any response yet. This caravan is
small and life is hard.”
I plead with all the organizations and associations
which take care of children to help Christina’s family and offer the young,
still-in shock, Christina psychological support and help her re-blend inwith
her family and community.
Do you have a message for all the friends and
benefactors of our organization around the world?
My message is like a prayer: “We
thank the Lord for his great blessing and miracle that He gave us. We thank the
Muslim family that took care of Christina. We thank all who made an effort for
her return. We pray for Christina for a new start in getting to know her real
parents and family and blend in with her Christian community. We pray for
Christina’s family, still in shock to see their baby again.
It was a true
miracle, a new birth and a new life. We pray for whoever lends a helping hand
for the baby and her family in any way possible. We pray for the return of all
the captives, prisoners, and abducted person still held by the ISIS and other
factions. We also pray for peace, security and stability to prevail in our
wounded Iraq, and the whole world. Amen.”