Fr. Paul speaks with "excitement" and "emotion" about the first Mass "for three years" in the church of Mar Addai. The little town of the Nineveh Plains has long been in the hands of the Islamic State, which devastated the place of worship. Dozens of buses and private vehicles from Erbil to attend the celebration. Streamed live over Facebook.
Erbil (AsiaNews) - "We will celebrate Palm Sunday in Karamles, one of the towns in the Nineveh plain" occupied and devastated by the Islamic State (IS). The function will be held "in the church of Mar Addai, we've cleaned it up these days" (see photo) and "it will be broadcast live on Facebook”, says Fr. Paul Thabit Mekko. The 41 year-old Chaldean priest from Mosul can barely hide his "enthusiasm, but also emotion" just days before the first celebration in the Christian town for three years now. "It will be a community celebration - he adds – a community that meets again just at the eve of Passover. A real resurrection, but also the first Easter of liberation "from Daesh [Arabic acronym for the IS, former Isis].
"I will concelebrate together with the Karamles" pastor says the Chaldean priest. He continues, "at least 10 bus are scheduled to leave from Erbil, for a total number of about 400 people." These are people originally from “Karamles, who still live in shelters and rented homes " in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Added to these are "dozens people who come in private cars and means of transport".
Fr. Paul is responsible for the refugee camp "Eyes of Erbil", on the outskirts of the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where hundreds of thousands of Christians (along with Muslims and Yazidis) in time have found shelter following the rise of the IS. There still 140 families, about 700 people in all, with 46 mini-apartments in the camp and an area for the collection and distribution of aid, a nursery for toddlers as well as a kindergarten and a secondary school. Many of these refugees are from Karamles.
"In the last few weeks – says Fr. Paul - many people come to the town every day to fix up their houses, trying to make the area new, although it is currently not possible to predict a date for for the return." In Karamles, adds, "the situation is still difficult. We have about 800 homes, 200 of which are burned, then another 90 have been completely destroyed; hundreds more are damaged for various reasons. The destruction is everywhere. "
From the point of view of security, however, it can be said that now the area is calm. "The Iraqi army is gone - confirms the Chaldean priest - and there are some elements belonging to the Christian militias who remain to guard and guarantee the safety of the village." People, mostly armed volunteers, who "oversee the" protection of those rebuilding their homes. At the same time there is a risk, albeit minimal, of unexploded mines planted in the ground in the suburbs and therefore "we must be cautious and careful."
The Mar Addai church is located in the north of the town and is the largest modern place of worship. Building on it began in 1937 and, after some delays, it was inaugurated in 1963. "It will be really a good celebration - says Fr. Paul - and really emotional at a personal level. For three years now, I have not celebrated Mass on that altar where I was ordained. "
And also for the village itself, it will be an opportunity for rebirth, as the priest will explain during his homily. "Like Christ, our village was humiliated. However, he will be among us, Christ will be with us in this village. After so much suffering it will be a Mass with a very special flavor. The Mass will be preceded by a procession through the village streets, with traditional songs and prayers that are recited once a year on this occasion ".
Karamles also had the traditional blessing of the homes for Easter as well as the gardens, and the vineyards. This year, Fr. Paul says, "we will resume this ancient tradition and bless the village with the branches of our olive trees." Among the refugees still housed today in shelters and homes in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, there is a climate of "anxiety and trepidation" in view of the celebration. "When I have proposed celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in the village church to them - reveals the priest - all responded with enthusiasm and participation. It will be a time of joy, not of sadness and the celebration will be great. We are also considering whether to have other Holy Week celebrations in the village, but so far there is no official confirmation. "
The Christian community in northern Iraq is experiencing a time of renewed hope, because it sees positive glimmers on the horizon. "Yesterday I was in the church of Karamles - concludes Fr. Paul - with a fire truck, to clean up parts of the building burned down by jihadists with water cannons (click here for the video). Smoke has left marks on many parts of the structure, some of which we have retained to remember the tragedy lived. Such as the marble cross on the altar, which has been burned. "
The Palm Sunday Mass, preceded by the procession will start between 9.30 am and 10 am local time. At the end the people will gather outside the building for a convivial and festive party. Each family will bring food prepared earlier, which will be shared by the whole community. Finally, those who wish will be able to follow the ceremony live on social networks; Mass will be broadcast live on Fr. Paul’s Facebook page, at the following address: https://www.facebook.com/alshabaalmasihi.alkanissa. (DS)