Alqosh (AsiaNews) – The first communion Mass in Alqosh was an historic moment" for a "frontier town" that has been under threat from the militants of the Islamic State (IS) for a long time. Now it can "hope for peace and normalcy" around these hundred children, said Mgr Basil Yaldo, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and close associate of the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean primate presided over the ceremony that was attended by "all the priests of the city, the nuns and more than 700 people. The faithful were excited because for the first time, the patriarch celebrated communions in the community."
Alqosh is an historic town in the Nineveh Governorate, Iraqi Kurdistan. It is located about 50 km north of Mosul, a Jihadist stronghold, and constitutes one of the main centres of the Assyrian-Chaldean Christian tradition.
At about 3 km from the centre, in the mountains overlooking the city, stands the ancient monastery of Rabban Hormizd, see of the Nestorian patriarchs from 1551 to 1804.
Over time, the original structure, too exposed to attacks from outside as well as a symbol of a troubled period of the local Church, was replaced by the new monastery of Our Lady of Messi, just outside the city.
Today it is inhabited by a group of monks, who opened their doors to orphans and unaccompanied minors separated from their families because of Islamist violence.
Like many other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alqosh too welcomed scores of refugees.
"Life in the area is almost back to normal,” said the vicar of Baghdad. “We hope that soon the whole plain [of Nineveh] can be liberated from the jihadists, and that refugees can return to their villages.”
The work to secure the area, he added, has "already started and for the past two days Iraqi troops have launched the battle to liberate the villages surrounding Mosul."
Addressing the boys and girls who received the first communion, Patriarch Sako urged them not to abandon their land, the city of Alqosh, but to stay and help in the reconstruction "because there is a (Christian) heritage to be preserved. "
The Chaldean primate, Mgr Yaldo noted, also called on young people to "be stronger, come to church and participate in the life of the Christian community as one participates in the life of a family."
After the service, the children asked Patriarch Sako some questions. One of them, Mgr Yaldo noted, said that when he "grows up he wants to become a priest to serve the poor and the needy."
The patriarch could not hold back his emotion after listening to such words, adding that "it is important to support and share the suffering."
After Mass, the Chaldean Patriarch and his deputy reached Kirkuk, where Mar Sako has been archbishop for ten years. Here he celebrated the Mass of the Assumption.
The service was held in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the prelate said, and "was attended by about a thousand faithful." This was followed by "the opening of a grotto dedicated to the Virgin, to coincide with the day of celebration".
The current archbishop of Kirkuk Mgr Yousif Thoma Mirkis, nuns, the city’s deputy governor representing the local government and some members of the City Council, Muslims, were presented at the function (pictured).
At the end, a meeting was held with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who today are gathered in chapter to choose a superior general.
"After weeks of violence, bombings, and bloodshed, the situation is now calmer,” Mgr Yaldo said. “However, Patriarch Sako called for prayers for peace in all the celebrations he officiated. We need to pray for peace and for the future of the country."