We want to go back home
By Murcadha O Flaherty
DISPLACED Iraqi Christians are determined to return to their homes in areas liberated from Daesh (ISIS) control – according to the bishop who has led the relief effort during their period of exile.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil described how some of the 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kurdish northern Iraq had already begun preparations to return to the ancient towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain.
However, the archbishop underlined the difficulty of Christians returning to nearby Mosul which is still under the militant Islamists’ control – but he added that many of the faithful originally from the city still held out the hope of returning one day.
(Displaced Christians in Ankawa, Erbil © Aid to the Church in Need)
In interviews with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Warda said: “People have not yet returned [to Nineveh] because of the operation to secure Mosul and the [subsequent] reconstruction plans.
“There is definitely a will to return after it’s secure. People have started [their] preparations.” He added: “People have been holding prayers and celebrations. Some priests went to liberated villages – with soldiers.
“They [villagers and priests] sang hymns to the victorious Cross.” But the archbishop recognised the many obstacles to be overcome before the displaced people in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and Dohuk and elsewhere can realistically return to their homes in Nineveh up to 40 miles away. He said: “Security, the clearing of sites and reassurance [for Christian families] is all important but, despite [these] on-going concerns, there is hope.”
While Archbishop Warda was hopeful of Christians’ returning to Nineveh, he was cautious about Mosul, especially in the short term. The archbishop said: “Mosul is a difficult case, with the need to secure the city, clear the site of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and then the reconstruction of the area.”
Archbishop Warda thanked Aid to the Church in Need which has provided ongoing emergency aid – food, medicine, shelter and schooling – for the IDPs since they left Nineveh and Mosul in summer 2014. He said: “I thank you and ask for your continued prayers. I ask you to celebrate the [liberation] of towns and villages in Nineveh and to continue raising awareness of the plight of suffering Christians in Iraq. I also ask your support for the construction of schools, the homes of Christian families and some churches in the towns of Bartella and Karemlesh in the Nineveh Plains [that have been damaged] by air strikes.”
Highlighting the danger of unexploded ordnance (IEDs) in the region, he also said: “The concerns for [all these villages] are all one package: security, social, political and economic, not just one single issue. Most churches are burnt but some [remain] in good condition. Most churches have had insults and graffiti written on the walls.”
(Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil (northern Iraq), Bashar Matti Warda © Aid to the Church in Need)
Since 2014 ACN has provided over $28.4 million in aid for the Christians of Iraq, supplying emergency aid and funding projects for education, food and accommodation for the refugees.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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