Christian churches unite to rebuild
In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Syriac Catholic Bishop, the Chaldean Catholic Bishop and two Syriac Orthodox bishops signed an agreement in Erbil to help Christians from the Nineveh Plains rebuild their homes, destroyed by ISIS in 2014.
Hope has returned to the hearts of Christians who were forced to flee the devastating advance of troops from the terror organization, Islamic State. Two and half years later, a seeming eternity for the displaced peoples, the return of the Christians to the Nineveh Plain to their villages and homes is finally foreseeable.
On March 27 at the offices of the archdiocese of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Erbil, a signing ceremony took place reflecting the agreement reached between three Christian churches in Iraq: the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church. The agreement formally establishes the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC) tasked with planning and supervising a program of rebuilding Christian houses. The Committee is composed of six members chosen from the above three churches (two representatives each) and of three external experts suggested by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The international pontifical charity will concern itself with advocacy and fundraising.
So that Christians can “go home”
According to assessments more, than 12,000 homes need rebuilding – those burned, destroyed or partially damaged by ISIS – the organization is estimating the cost of this operation will be in excess of 290 million dollars. The funds gathered will be allocated to each Church in proportion to the number of damaged houses within their own faith community.
After the signing ceremony, Msgr. Timothaeus Mosa Alshamany, Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and prior of the Monastery of Saint Matthew emphasized the initiative’s double historical importance. On the one hand the ecumenical spirit that made this possible and on the other, the real possibility for thousands of Christians to return to their ancestral roots and to a life in dignity.
“We would like to thank ACN, which has helped us so much in the past, by providing help and food. Now this charity is playing a crucial role in the rebuilding of our houses.”
“Today,” he said, “we are truly a united Church – Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic – united in the work of rebuilding these houses on the Nineveh Plains and in restoring hope to the hearts of the inhabitants of these villages and inviting those who have left them to return.” The archbishop then went on to thank for the important role of ACN in developing this initiative: “We would like to thank ACN, which has helped us so much in the past, by providing help and food. Now this charity is playing a crucial role in the rebuilding of our houses.”
The fact that this principle of unity and of speaking with “one voice” has prevailed is a source of great satisfaction for Father Andrzej Halemba, responsible for the pontifical foundation’s Middle East section. ACN will closely follow the committee’s work, though solely in the start-up phase. In subsequent phases, the organization will limit itself to seeking the possible sources of funding, mainly from among major international benefactors. “What we have done to support this initiative,” said Father Halemba, visibly gratified at the signing of the accord, “We have not this done for money. We have done it to ensure that the Christians can remain in Iraq. We are working for God.”
Speaking about unity between the Christian churches, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul also emphasized: “I would like to invite the Christians of the Nineveh Plains to return to their homes and resume living in their villages, in order to bear witness to Christianity. Today we join together to demonstrate that we are united in our wish to accelerate this operation as rapidly as possible, and that it must start as soon as possible.”
The courage of the three Christian churches in taking this step responds to the courage of the Christians who have decided to stay on in Iraq. This sentiment was expressed by Chaldean Catholic Bishop Mikha Pola Maqdassi of Alqosh who stated, “Today we have given our agreement to the rebuilding of the houses in our ruined villages. This is a brave step forward which gives us great joy and encourages the Christians to remain in their villages and in their own country.”
Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan addressed an appeal to all international benefactors: “We are the roots of Christianity. We must remain in our country. We must remain as witnesses to Jesus Christ in this country, in Iraq and especially in the Nineveh Plains. This task of rebuilding all the houses in those villages where ISIS has destroyed everything is truly an enormous challenge. Thank you in advance to all those who will help us.”
By Daniele Piccini, Aid to the Church in Need International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin